Ms P. and the Rats of NIH(M)

I’m a birder. A lazy birder, but a birder nonetheless. It is part of who I am and has  been for more than half of my life.

One huge aspect of birding for me is feeding the birds. I have many bird feeders — two Droll Yankee tube-like feeders: one serves up tiny nyger seed that the finches love and one doles out larger seed such as sunflower, cracked corn or safflower. I also have decorative bird feeders — one looks like a birch log, but is ceramic. Another looks like a church, with a roof and clear plastic sides which hold in the seed — which I am surprised has not been chewed apart by squirrels yet. Then there are the suet cages and nyger seed socks.

I don’t have all of these feeders up at the same time. That would be unwise in Bethesda. I’d be the crazy bird lady. Recently I had one Droll Yankee feeder filled with sunflower seed and one nyger sock in back by the bird bath and one nyger sock outside the attic window.

One day I noticed that the nyger sock in the backyard had a huge hole in it. I wondered what animal had made this hole. I suspected it was a squirrel, but knowing that squirrels don’t particularly care for nyger seed, I was more than a little worried we had another rodent problem.

A few days later I looked out the window and saw the culprit. A large brown Norway rat. It was just after dinner and this rat was helping him or herself to the nyger seed. It was actually kind of cute — if you forget all the bad rat stories. But I was dismayed. I thought we were done with these things.

Years ago we had rats in the ductwork of our addition. Dean and I both noticed a funky smell coming from the heating vents in the sun room — it reminded me of the elephant house. When we discovered that it was a nest of rats, I was horrified and would never ever have admitted our discovery to anyone. I was embarrassed and ashamed and it lowered my self-esteem for a while. Dean, being the son of a dairy farmer, took care of it and we hoped we were done with rats.

The following January, however, we came home from our annual Christmas in the Midwest trip to find a rat had gotten into our house and was trapped in a mousetrap behind our stove. Dean took care of it, too. I was ready to hire an exterminator, but Dean felt that he knew what to do as well as any exterminator, so I believed him.

The next year was the year of cicadas in our area and when the cicadas died out the entire neighborhood had a rat problem. It seemed that the rats were displaced from NIH because of construction there. They didn’t care where they lived because they had a bounty of cicadas for several weeks, but after the cicadas were done with their (very cool) life cycle in our area, the rats had nothing to eat, so became a nuisance. I finally lost the embarrassment I was feeling about the rat problem we’d had — especially since other neighbors were admitting to having had rats in previous years as well.

Everyone dealt with the rats in their own ways, some hired exterminators while others, like Dean, took care of it themselves. The worst part of the rat problem for me, however, was having to give up feeding the birds. I had a slight meltdown when I realized I’d have to do this, but Dean said that maybe it would not be permanent. I held on to that hope.

We went a few years with no apparent rat problems — I even was able to feed the birds again until this year when I saw the rat eating the nyger seed.

So now I’ve had to store my bird feeders for good. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to feed birds in the backyard again — certainly not at this house. I think I can still feed them at the attic windows — but it’s not really the same. I’ll not be seeing any more Rose Breasted Grosbeaks feeding on sunflower seed outside the window in the back yard.  I can still provide water for the birds and I have started looking more at planting more bird friendly plants in the yard. But I feel as if a part of my personality has been lost for good.

2 thoughts on “Ms P. and the Rats of NIH(M)

  1. The only place we can put a feeder and actually watch it is right up against the house, by the dining room. We without question feed rodents all the time and I am forever finding stashes of birdseed in my house. But I feel your pain. I just can’t stop feeding them. Maybe someday, but…

    And rats are just bigger mice. I remember seeing those small rats in bushes when I lived down that way…

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