Mice are opportunistic rodents with a granivorous diet, and bird feeders can be the perfect food source for their hearty appetites. For many backyard birders, however, these are unwelcome pests, but how can they be discouraged from bird feeding areas without also discouraging the birds?
Problems With Mice
Mice are a natural part of the ecosystem, but that doesn’t mean they’re always welcome visitors, particularly to bird feeders. While mice rarely pose any threat to humans, musophobia—fear of mice—is one of the most common phobias, and many people are simply squeamish around these furry pests. More than just annoying, however, mice can cause problems at bird feeders, such as:
- Consuming seed and other foods intended for birds
- Frightening away skittish bird species
- Contaminating seed or feeder surfaces with feces or urine
- Damaging feeders in order to access the seed
- Carrying diseases that can be transmitted to birds
- Irritating neighbors who notice the rodents’ presence
Because mice breed year-round and are more than comfortable sharing a house with humans, having mice at bird feeders can quickly create a larger rodent problem. Inside the home, mice can cause the same sorts of problems that they do at feeders—damage and contamination—and they can be hard to remove.
Tips for Discouraging Mice
Because mice are adaptable, it is impossible to completely eliminate them from any bird-friendly property. It is easier than many birders think, however, to make mice unwelcome and discourage them from staying nearby:
- Eliminate ground-feeding areas or open platform feeders that are easy for mice to use. Instead, opt for hanging tube or sheltered hopper feeders that use wire or metal hangers mice won’t be able to climb.
- Regularly clean underneath feeding areas by raking up spilled seed and hulls, or using a leaf vacuum to collect the debris. This will also help clean up any contamination in the area, keeping birds healthier.
- Choose metal or recycled plastic feeders with thick, durable construction and rounded edges that mice will find difficult to chew. Feeders that are squirrel-resistant are often mouse-resistant as well.
- Use metal poles to hang feeders several feet off the ground. Mice can easily climb wooden poles, but their claws will not have good traction on metal. Broad baffles are another obstacle to keep them away from feeders.
- Clean bird feeders regularly with a weak bleach solution to decontaminate them and eliminate odors that may be attractive to mice.
- Keep grass near the feeders well-trimmed to remove shelter that can make mice feel more secure. If they are nervous, they are less likely to stay nearby.
- Trim overgrown shrubbery and especially remove low branches so there is no shelter directly at the ground level. This deprives mice of easy security, but birds will still enjoy the rest of the plant.
- Move bird feeders away from the house, garage, shed or other potential shelter mice may be using. If feeders can be relocated at least 30 feet away, mice are much less likely to investigate the buildings as well.
- Add cayenne pepper or chili pepper flakes to seed and suet. The birds won’t mind, but mice dislike hot, strong tastes and will quickly move on to another food source.
- Take steps to attract owls and other raptors to your property for natural rodent control.
- Store birdseed and other foods for birds in tightly closed metal or thick plastic containers that mice cannot penetrate to ensure they are not snacking on food away from the feeders.
When all else fails, it may be necessary to trap or kill the mice. Snap traps and humane catch-and-release traps can both be effective, but if there are many mice in the area, contacting a pest control professional may be the best choice. If you do contact an exterminator, be sure they are aware of your backyard birds and concern for other wildlife, and that their methods will not cause harm to any creatures other than the intended targets.
What Not to Do
It can be frustrating to continually have new rodent visitors appearing at bird feeders, but there are some elimination methods that should never be used in outdoor settings:
- Poison: Rodent poisons can easily be eaten by birds, and mice that have eaten the poison are more vulnerable to become prey for raptors, and thus contaminate the birds as well. Ideally, only use poisons for indoor rodent control if absolutely necessary.
- Glue traps: Getting stuck in a glue trap makes a mouse frantic, and the rodent may rip its own fur off or chew off limbs to attempt to escape. These traps, which many consider inhumane, should never be used outdoors because birds or other animals can easily become coated in the sticky trap as well.
- Outdoor cats: Pet cats should never be allowed to roam outdoors as a mouse control measure; they are just as likely to kill birds and other wildlife. Instead, collect urine-soaked cat litter and sprinkle it in areas where mice have been noticed to convince the rodents that cats are nearby.
Mice will visit bird feeders—it’s a fact of backyard birding life. Birders who take steps to discourage these rodents, however, will see fewer of them as the yard becomes less welcoming to rodents, without sacrificing the joy of feeding backyard birds.