Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Bird News, Book News And Rat Update

Moving the bird feeders has sorted the Rat Problem- no food, no rats. I am relieved because I don't like killing things.

I was very interested in the responses to the last post. Rats clearly don't have a good standing with many people. For myself, I don't object to them, but I accept the need to control numbers. This is not because they are rats, it is because any species living here in a huge population would distort the balance of wildlife we are trying to achieve. The simplest way to reduce numbers is to reduce the resources that are available to them. Most notable of these is food.

The main strong feeling provoked by the rat pictures in my last post seemed to centre on disease, but this argument doesn't hold water when it's properly tested because rats are not alone in being vectors for disease. You can catch Wiles from moles, hedgehogs, dogs, deer and mice, for example. These things do happen from time to time, but no more than any other danger we are exposed to in life.

As many of you know, I am currently doing an Ecology degree and ecology is based on empirical evidence. I have access through my course to a large database of peer-reviewed scientific journals and have spent some time searching through them for evidence of the association between rats and disease. Of course rats do carry disease and some of it can pass to humans, but I could find no papers that proved rats are any more dangerous to us than other species. Interestingly, the majority of diseases we catch are given to us by other people.

I read one paper which was examining rats as vectors for plague in Madagascar and it concluded that while rats did spread plague, their role was equal in that to people. In other words, people spread as much plague as rats do through poor hygiene practices and living in large numbers in cramped, close quarters.

In short, there is no empirical, tested, peer-reviewed evidence to show that rats are any worse than any other wild creature when it comes to spreading disease. So why do so many people loath them? There is certainly a very deep-seated belief that they were responsible for spreading plague to humans (incorrect as we now know), they also breed fast and, where conditions are right (food, water, shelter) will form large family groups. The fact that urban rats often frequent sewers and eat rotting food and the carcasses of dead animals probably doesn't help their PR much either. 

But consider for a moment if you will the case of India and its Vultures. Vultures eat rotting carcasses. In some regions of India people leave their dead out precisely so the Vultures can clean the bones. When Indian Vulture populations dropped in 2000 by 99.9% due to a Vet drug called diclofenic (an anti-inflammatory used to treat livestock which is fatal to birds), the cascading effect on the ecosystem (and that includes people by the way) was catastrophic. With no birds to clean the carcasses the number of feral dogs exploded, and with them incidents of human disease. 

Although it may not be a very savoury thought to us fastidious humans (many of whom now live lives completely isolated from nature and the natural world), creatures like rats and vultures perform tasks that are indirectly essential to our own welfare, forming as they do vital links in the chains that make our ecosystems work.

In a recent lecture I attended, a scientist from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust talked about the poison burden now present in wild creatures across the ecosystem. This happens because rat poisons are also ingested by voles and mice, who are themselves prey for raptors and larger mammals. Given the inter-connectivity of all living creatures, this should be of concern to all of us.

One final thought. Did you know that 95% of laboratory animals are rats and mice? This is because they share many of our genetic, behavioural and biological characteristics. In other words, we are not so very different.  Something to ponder.

Having read all of that (thank you, I know it was rather wordy but I felt it was important and interesting) I'd like to know what you think. Has it challenged your feelings towards rats and the use of poisons?

In other news, here are some Good Books I am reading at the mo. A couple of Ecology ones which make fascinating and thought-provoking reading, and one Tudor murder mystery which I'm struggling to put down :o)




Of course, instead of researching rats and the spread of disease, this is what I should be doing..... (yawn and then some, believe me).

 
This is what I'd much rather be doing.....:o)




Will my Angel win out on that one, or perhaps some form of compromise can be reached? :o)

I'll leave you with some pics of the Garden Birds, who have very quickly found their newly positioned feeders (we even have a Chaffinch in the garden now, first time in ages, so perhaps moving things around has been beneficial in other ways too)....





 



And finally, some pics of the Hounds, who are having another Quiet Day At Home as I'm still feeling below-par.
 
 

Have a lovely day, all,

CT :o)

36 comments:

  1. What a wonderful post, and thankyou for all the information - so interesting (and balancing) about the rats, I watch them here, as you would any wildlife and the young are enchanting - can't say I'm so fond of the huge males (those big bare back-ends dragging!), but that is my silliness. But they do ruinously gnaw through everything/anything. I read recently about the poisons, and that it is the second generation ones that are so toxic, and that one of the major deathly contaminants in the environment are fire-retarders. Love the stag fabric.

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    1. Many thanks for the comment, Jennifer.

      I also enjoy watching our baby rats :o)

      You raise a very good point about the gnawing and it's one I neglected to address in the blog piece. I wonder if they would do this if food wasn't on the other side? For example, my lecturer at college had to construct a rat-proof kitchen composter (kept outside) because they kept chewing through his plastic one.

      Thanks for the point about fire-retardants too, I didn't know that. There is so much to be mindful of in terms of pollutants, I hope we as a race are starting to think more consciously about what we do to our environment as more information about the effect things have come to light. CT.

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  2. Oh, and thanks for the Good Books - I'm going to have to look at Where do Camels come from

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    1. The invasive species one is new and particularly interesting. Also very accessible and easy to read without nodding off :o)

      George Monbiot is a fascinating man and he raises some very interesting points and he makes you think, which is always good, but I don't subscribe to his position entirely.

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  3. GLAD YOU GOT YOUR RAT PROBLEM SORTED BY JUST CHANGING YOUR FEEDERS POSITION. Sorry about the caps! I don't like the idea of poison either for the reasons you mentioned. Hope you are on power soon and the dogs can get out and about for a walk with you. that would be good for you anyway.

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    1. Thank you Margaret. Have you been OK in all this weather? We are OK in the South I just wondered how it was in Ireland. Hope you are x

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  4. We have a terrier and cat and they seem to be keeping rats and mice away at night CT. We keep our cattle nuts and pig ration in wheely bins and keep the lids shut. Seems to be working.

    I think banning pig swill and so much going into landfill means a giant rat population explosion.

    Blowing a gale down here in West Cork. Hopefully we will still have electricity tomorrow.

    You always post great domestic and wildlife pictures. You should print and publish calendars of them.

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    1. Our old puss cat used to do the same, and Teddy occasionally gets one. It's a good point about pig swill and landfill- too much easily available food, which was the root of the problem here.

      Hope you'll all be OK in the wind, we're due it and lots of rain tonight. L is hoping for snow and it may come later next week. Be nice for the kids if it does, and for us too if it only stays a day or two :o)

      Thanks for your kinds words about the photos, I do really enjoy taking them so it's nice to know other people like looking at them too.

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  5. Look out! Look out! It's meeeee! :).
    Don't get excited...Just a one off!
    Maybe........!
    Rats...Rats...Well, it's not unknown,
    l consume/eat a lot of game! I don't
    kill any of it...I just can't.
    But..Brought to me 'DEAD', out comes
    my trusty 8inch and away l go....
    And, Yes! I've eaten many a rat in my
    time, once the rat is skinned, gutted and
    clean, there's a perfectly good creature to
    consume! Leave the head and tail on......
    You'll need summat to hold on to, while you
    eat it....Little barbecue sauce...Sorted....!

    HeHe...
    "What do you call a camel without a hump".?
    "Humphrey".

    "What is a camels favourite Nursery Rhyme"?
    "Humpty~Dumpty".

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    1. Willieeeeee! How lovely to see you here :o) You are an incorrigible chuckle-maker, thanks for making me smile :o)

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  6. I always enjoy reading your posts, they are packed full of info! I used to enjoy watching the rats if they came into the garden, couldn't let them stay there but they were very entertaining. Hope you recover properly soon. x

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    1. Thanks, Jo. My feeling is rats are fine if there aren't too many of them. Feeling better today so hoping the lurgy is finally on it's way out. Hope all's well with you and yours xx

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  7. The Rat debate.. for me I grew up with the fear (like spiders ) from my parents, we lived right next to a paper mill, river and the local tip which in my day was never covered over, as kids we used to go and have a good rummage. But as night fell you never stayed as all the rats would come out to feed (talking hundreds) having said that if it was hundreds of any kind of animals it would have had the same effect, but it just so happened to be rats. The large numbers and the fact they are about to see just adds to the fear. They would nest in the paper mill were we played and as the river ran through our garden we sometimes got black rats(I think(much bigger than a normal rat)) nesting under the sheds. But what did it for me was watching a horror film when I was 12/13 about large groups of rats going round and killing people, they would up and leave to the nearest house, kill then move on... Our house was one of the first ones near the tip so had nightmares for months thinking I was going to be eaten alive..(Shudder ) So I understand all the facts and they do get a bad press but at the end of the day still not liking them...(even though you photos make them look kinda cute)
    Amanda xx

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    1. A bit like what Jaws did for Great Whites. It's taken years to even start to debunk that myth. Horrid to be made to feel scared of an animal like that. Open food sources are a big problem aren't they and rats have a very efficient breeding strategy to take full advantage of that. I think balance is the key- too many not good for all sorts of reasons, but a few- no real problem. Thanks for taking the time to comment- I really am interested to get people's thoughts on our furry little friends xx

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  8. A really useful and informative post. Balance is the key with wild life and from what i see the less we interfere the better.

    jean
    x

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    1. Couldn't agree more Jean. Our rats seem to have gone off hunting for food elsewhere and with such a mild winter I'm sure they'll find it. I am feeling better that the garden is quieter on the rat-front- my main concern was them taking chicks from the hedge once nesting season starts :o)

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  9. Sorry you are feeling poorly - now it's my turn to say - get well soon! This is an interesting post, because I was just looking at your previous post and wondering, how come your rats look so cute? I guess it's because I don't SEE 'my' rats, which come into the chicken shed in late autumn, when it's dark. I'm left with the mess they make and the dug up soil where they burrow through the beaten earth floor, and the droppings. We did catch them on rat cam which was a bit amusing, but they were of course eating the chook food, which always makes me wonder if the hens will catch disease from them. They haven't. We have tried live traps but no luck, and always have to resort to poison. Of course we don't like using poison, but the only alternative would be to stop keeping hens. :-/

    Anyway, much food for thought here and very interesting about the vultures (which incidentally I like ..... I know, makes no sense when rats give me the creeps).

    Out of interest, how will moving your feeders solve the rat 'problem'?

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    1. They aren't great in hen houses so I commiserate. They used to steal our girls' eggs and we did end up giving the chooks to ma in an attempt to reduce the rat numbers, which worked, until they discovered the bird seed :o)

      The bird seed feeders were right next to the hedge and the rats had burrows in the hedge and it gave them perfect cover. I've moved them to the middle of the patio right next to the house. They may well work it out, in which case I will move them again- this is advice from the RSPB and so far it is working :o)

      ps- lovely to have you back xx

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    2. Glad to be back :-) and hope the ratties find somewhere else to go, although I could almost feel sorry for them. ;-)

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  10. Three cheers for countryside tales, for putting the rat thing to rights. I LOVE rats, in fact I love all wild life. I'll end there or I might ramble on and offend someone.
    Briony
    x

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    1. Thanks, Bri :o) Important to put the other point of view across xx

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  11. Thank you for putting the balance right over the Weils disease - true enough, but deer, moles, hedgehogs don't come into your house. I have a horror of them doing that after one of the houses Eldest daughter rented, had the bloomin' things coming out of the fireplace and going all over the kitchen units. Urggggh!

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    1. Oh poor girl! I was reading about sonic rat deterrents - we have a mouse one in the attic - which sound like a better bet than poison if rats are a problem. Hope you aren't snowed in? :o)

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  12. Hey CT,
    I don't have a problem with rats per se, although I have an irrational dislike of their tails. I think it's the way they wrap around things. My friend Jo used to keep rats as pets. They were very friendly and inquisitive animals. But I didn't enjoy them crawling over me. Again completely irrational. For the record I feel the same about mice and gerbils, but not hamsters. When we kept chickens they would sometimes appear, but that was usually when I someone other than me fed them, and gave them too much and didn't clear it away. They buggered off when Beryl killed and ate one. In the end we had to get rid of the chickens, because our neighbour kept complaining about rats "as big as dogs" in his garden. I think it was possible his dog, or the massive bones that they left lying around in their garden for Buster to feed on. I miss my chickens, and would happily have the odd rat reside. The eggs are a great compensation. I have read Feral, and found it very thought provoking.
    Leanne xx

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    1. I think many people dislike rat tails- similar to snakes maybe? That's another deep-seated fear so many people share. We had same experience with our hens who ended up over at Ma's as a result. I expect your neighbour's bones were attracting the rats as much as the chook food :o) xx

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  13. Hello lovely,
    I quite like rats, as long as they don't come in my house! My niece has them as pets and they are delightful. My problem with my bird feeders is 'Nextdoor's Bloody Cat'
    It is always in my garden. Always near the feeders no matter where I put them. I had flocks of sparrows, goldfinch, chaffinch etc. even the starlings are staying away. I've asked my neighbour, to no avail, to at least put a collar with a bell on the thing. Grrrrr. ( I'm putting off doing the HG Tax return by commenting on blogs!! ) x

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    1. That's really annoying about the neighbour's cat frightening the birds away. Our old puss cat was a micer (and ratter) but not a birder so we never had that problem.
      Blogs are a great way of avoiding what you should be doing :o) Hope the cleaning's going well :o) xx

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    2. Sorry to 'BUTT' in.....
      Can l point out...And, you may be aware..
      That there are numerous 'gadgets' available
      to prevent cats, and dogs, for that matter, to
      stop them entering certain areas...Like next
      doors garden...AND...They work...!
      Your neighbour can do very little to prevent
      her puss~cat from entering your garden.
      After all..Cats love to chase and catch birds...
      It's in their DNA...! Bless them!

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    3. Thank you Wiilie, I am aware! But they cost ££££ - the cheaper options I've tried! I know they love to chase birds, but a bell is a good Warner for my feathered friends!! My neighbour could also do the decent they and MOVE! Taking her bloody cat with her!!!

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    4. HaHa! Bless! :).
      Well...As a Sicilian..Perhaps we could come to
      some arrangement....!!!

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  14. I loved this post too. The rats I mentioned at the wildfowl and wetlands place are controlled in a similar way - in March the bird feeders are removed. This is partly to remove the food source from the rats, partly to make the area quieter for nesting kingfishers and partly so that the small birds disperse and find natural food (I forget the exact details of the last point, but it was something to do with them living over a much wider area). I have a rat living in or around my allotment shed and compost heap. I don't have a problem with him - the pigeons, badgers, slugs, snails and muntjac are far more destructive! But it's live and let live, I don't kill anything on the whole. I hope you find some sewing time along with the studying, although I'm very impressed with it all.

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    1. I think we share the same sentiments CJ, live and let live. I much prefer to let things find their own balance, which they broadly do unless we distort it in some way.

      Your willdfowl and wetland place sounds lovely- I bet there are some amazing birds there at this time of the year.

      Managed to get some sewing done last night, once my eyes had started to cross-over from the stats essay :o) xx

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  15. Glad that you got the little fellas sorted out! xx

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  16. Great post, I knew about rats and humans biology being similar and about the vultures and diclofenac (which is just terrible). I tend to watch a lot of nature programs and medical stuff due to my work, so pick this sort of thing up. I grew up around rats, so they have never frightened me thankfully.

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    1. Nor me. Still no sign of them here since the feeders moved to a new position. I'm hopeful we've solved the problem kindly :o)

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Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x