Monday, December 15, 2008

Bestia Non Grata

So Hugh, just across the river, got 2 inches of snow, and it's sticking. No such luck, here. The snow fell all night, but it was dry, flaky stuff, and in the morning, the wind picked it all up and blew it away, leaving cold, bare concrete and icy grass.

And it was a cold, cold wind! I watched a chickadee pounding at the ice in the birdbath, probably not getting any liquid. When he gave up, I went out and poured two jugs of hot water into it. The ice melted a bit around the edges, but soon froze over again.

All the birds that have me on their list of cold-weather soup kitchens turned up for lunch. More chickadees; there was a constant stream of them at the black oil seed feeder. Juncos, in great numbers, house finches, a couple of towhees, assorted sparrows, including a very fat Fox sparrow. (Or was he all puffed up against the cold?) And the shy varied thrush that I sometimes hear under the evergreens spent a good while foraging among the leaves I had raked and piled up just a couple of days ago.

I had sprinkled out a couple of handfuls of finch seed mixed with leftover bacon fat for my guests, and was standing at the window watching them fight over it, when this party crasher showed up.

Not invited. Where's the bouncer?

We had seen a pair of these, months ago, after our neighbour across the alley had been clearing brush behind the buildings. For a couple of days, they scuttled quickly across our lawn, from one bit of shelter to another. I brought in a handful of stones, and dashed to the door to throw one or two every time I saw them. (No rats were harmed in this process; I've a lousy aim.)

They must have found a new home, one with no chainsaws nor stone-throwing women. We hadn't seen them again until today.

This time, the rat came right up to the birdseed pile, and I got out the camera before I stocked up on ammunition.

But ... is it a rat? Or a humongous mouse? It didn't look like the rats I know; for one thing, it's too small, and the face is too pointed.

I Googled and Wikipedia'd (Is that a word?) assorted rodents, and finally found it. It's a black rat, otherwise known as a ship rat or roof rat. They are smaller than the familiar* Norway (brown) rat; up to 8 inches, as compared to 10 inches for the Norway. (16 inches according to this UK site; that's some big rat!) The Norway rat's tail is shorter than the rest of the animal, but this little black rat's tail is longer. And the Norway rat has a stubby, round snout.

*Wikipedia says the Norway rat is
"the most successful mammal on the planet after humans."
But the black rats are as much a pest; they chew houses, make holes, cut cables, bring disease and fleas and bad odours. I don't want them around here. Even if they're starving and freezing. I'm sorry.

I went out and gathered a few good throwing stones; they're sitting on my desk now. And tomorrow, any birdseed will be in a bowl on the table, and I'll bring it in at dusk. The ground feeders will just have to become table feeders. The table will be warmer on their feet, anyhow.


  1. Black rats seem almost elegant compared to Norway rats I've been battling for a few weeks now. They came under the fence and made a subterranean assault on the compost bin--what a mess. I've employed a small army of snap traps but still haven't got them all. Last year I had to resort to poison, and I suppose I will again soon if I keep seeing signs.

    The compost has to go, unfortunately.

  2. I read that rodents cannot tolerate red pepper (capsiascum) but that birds are fine with it. I went out and dumped half a bag of red-hot chilaca powder all over the area near the bird feeders.

    I wonder if you put Tabasco in your compost, whether it would discourage the rats.

  3. The only rats I can look at without cringing are neotomas (wood rats, a.k.a. packrats). I worked in a lab on campus in college and we bred them for some sort of research. They were really cute (IMO), like giant hamsters. (Sized @ 11-16".)

  4. I had a packrat in my root cellar when I lived up north. Ruined my peanut butter. Ate right through the plastic. (I bought it in 5 gallon drums, those days.)

    I'd walk in and see those beady eyes staring at me from behind the canning jars. Cute critter, but I resented the loss of the peanut butter.


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