Notorious for being little menaces, rats can be a force to be reckoned with. Being able to attract each other to specific areas, they can quickly multiply within your yard. There has to be a reason they are coming to your yard… right?
Rats commonly enter yards in search of food, shelter, warmth, other rats, or even edible plants! More specifically, pet waste, water features, garbage cans, house lights, tall grass, and even backyard animals can bring rats onto your property.
As mentioned, rats are a fickle foe to deal with. Keep reading to learn about why they may come into your yard, and some tips on how you can prevent them from coming in the first place!
How To Tell If Rats Are In Your Yard
Once you realize that there is a pest in your yard, it can be difficult to distinguish which pest you are truly dealing with. Especially when you have pests in your yard, it’s tough to decipher which animals belong, and which animals don’t.
Luckily, there are a few main telltale signs that distinguish rats from other pests. By understanding and being able to identify these signs, you can be able to know exactly what pest you’re dealing with.
Scat And Droppings
Although it may sound gross, using scat and droppings is one of the most accurate ways to identify a pest. Regardless of if you can physically see your pest, every single animal will leave droppings if they stay in an area for long.
This is especially true if you are dealing with a bigger infestation of rats.
In fact, according to the University Of Florida, identifying pests via scat is useful because most animals are nocturnal/avoid humans. In other words, when it is hard to track down the animal you are looking for, scat is the next best thing.
Rat droppings are pretty unique when it comes to garden pests. As compared to rabbits, deer, and other common animals, rats leave pretty small droppings. The problems come if you are trying to distinguish rat droppings from mice droppings, which are very similar to each other.
In general, most rats will leave droppings that are slightly wrinkled, dark brown, and somewhat smaller than an average grain of rice. They usually leave them in small piles, so seeing them around your property could be a clue you have a rat infestation.
Tracks And Soil Disturbance
Another great way to tell if you are dealing with rats is by tracking soil disturbance. “Soil disturbance” refers to the way animals alter the soil when they interact with it. This can be as small as displaced soil around a nest/hole, to as conspicuous as full-blown tracks.
While rats are crafty pests, they rarely leave a lot of soil disturbances. With their nest building/reproductive behaviors, they rarely displace soil around them.
If you live in an area with soggy, loose soil, however, you may see small rat tracks, which is a clear sign of their immediate presence.
Squeaks And Other Noises
Another common sign of rat infestations is the noise they create. Similar to all the popular rats we see in our beloved children’s shows, rats in real life also create high-pitched squeaking noises.
Especially when they are in large groups, rats create squeaks and even chirps you can hear when up close.
When you are outside in your yard, this may be hard to hear. However, if the rats make their way into your house/garage, it can be a sign of their presence. In most cases, if you have rat issues in/near your house, you most likely have them in your yard as well!
In addition to their squeaking, rats can also make scratching noises if they find their way into areas like your garage or shed.
Rats Can Cause Property Damage
Rats are also notorious for having a particular taste for building materials. I don’t know what it is about drywall that excites them so much, but they just go wild for it!
During the wintertime especially, rats can usually find their way into your house and garage. If they are particularly hungry, or they want to build nests, they will chew through most materials. And by most materials, I mean most materials!
From wires to drywall, to exposed wood, to plastic; rats do not discriminate against what they will damage. With this, if you find small bite and scratch marks on objects around your house or garage, it could be a sign of nearby rats. This is especially true of the scratches and bites that lead to holes or nests.
Nests And Nesting Behavior Can Point To Rats
Nests… really? Yep, although it may only sound like a bird’s game, rats are pretty talented nest builders.
Rats like to build nests (especially during mating seasons) to retain warmth and support young offspring. Depending on the type of rat you are dealing with, there are many places in which a nest could be hiding.
According to the University Of Arizona, rats can build nests in trees, underground, ground-level shelters, building materials/car engines, and many more places. With this, if you see small nest-like structures in any of these places, you may be dealing with some sort of rat in your yard.
8 Most Common Reasons That Bring Rats Into Your Yard
Ok, ok, with these thoughts in mind, you may still wonder, “Why do I suddenly have rats in my yard?” Well question no longer, as we’ve got that covered for you!
While some of these factors are simply out of our control, others are alterable, and you may be able to use them for your benefit!
Pet Waste Attracts Rats To Your Yard
Similarly to most pets, pet waste attracts rats. Specifically, rats are especially attracted to dog droppings.
Let’s be honest; as dog owners, there may be a time or two when our furry little buddies let it loose out in the yard without us knowing. With this in mind, there is most likely some pet waste in each of our yards, which could attract some unwanted rats.
Rats simply like to eat the dog droppings found in your yard… Ewwww! Yep, although it sounds gross, rats get a lot of nutrients and essential calories from pet waste.
The best solution for this problem would be to make sure to know where your dog is pooping outside. Possibly set a routine so you know where they are most likely to relieve themselves.
You should also try to scoop up their poop immediately into something that is durable and blocks scent. You can check out these Earth Rated Extra Strong Extra Thick Dog Bags for a good option.
Backyard Animals Can Attract Rats
If you, by chance, are raising some sort of backyard animal, they can also attract rats to your yard. To be more specific, small livestock such as chickens and ducks are more likely to attract rats.
The warmth and food associated with these farm animals are what usually attract rats. According to Utah State University, the lights, open food, and open water we usually give these animals are very attractive to rats, and can even support their growing populations.
There are a few ways you could try to avoid this problem. First of all, you could install some sort of fine-mesh fence to keep out even the smallest of pests. For instance, you could wrap something like this De-bird Garden Fencing around your current fence to keep out smaller pests.
Rats Can Be Attracted To Bird feeders and Barbecues
Bird feeders, barbecues, and anything of the sort can be very attractive to rats. I mean, for them it’s like a mini buffet that we just leave out for them to eat from any time of day.
Some other yard objects, like bird baths, water/rain barrels, and anything else that holds food or water, can also attract rats. Rats are pretty agile, so they can even climb onto some small hanging bird feeders.
Additionally, if you have a barbecue grill with inside compartments, those can attract rats as well. After grilling, heat can last in a barbecue for a long time, and leftover food mixed with heat is the perfect recipe for rats.
The only proper solution to these problems is getting rat-proof products. For instance, swap out your traditional bird feeder with a rat-proof/squirrel-proof one, such as this Heavy Duty Bird Feeder For Wild Birds.
You should also try to cover and clean out your grill after each use. Something like this GRILLART Grill Brush is perfect for getting every bit of food off to prevent rats from coming.
Rats Can Be Attracted To Specific Plants
Sometimes the things attracting rats are completely out of your control. This idea applies to plants, which can sometimes attract rats without us knowing.
Rats are usually attracted to plants that produce nuts, fruit, berries, or other delicious/nutritious foods. They aren’t too picky, however, and they will simply eat plant tissue (leaves, roots, etc.) as long as the plant is edible.
According to the University Of Illinois, having a vegetable garden can attract rats to your yard as well.
Aside from ripping up your garden and all the plants you have (which we don’t want to do), the only actual solution to this problem is finding “rat-proof” and “deer-proof” plants. Plants that are labeled as this are usually not delectable to rats, so they normally will leave them alone.
You can also look into growing plants that even repel rats. Some common suggestions include mint, garlic, and onions.
Loose Garbage Cans Can Attract Rats
I’m sure we all have woken up from time to time, finding our trash cans spilled over with the contents in the street. Although crows or raccoons may have been the primary cause of it, it is plausible rats played a part as well.
Similar to the idea of leftover food, rats have a particular liking for the contents of your trash can. With traditional garbage cans, it is common for the lids to come loose, not get closed properly, or even knock off in the wind. These events leave your garbage can looking like a rat buffet!
Keeping this in mind, the best way to combat this issue is to purchase a pest-proof trash can or get some sort of lid fastener. One lid lock we recommend is this Strong Strap Stretch Latch.
Rats Can Attract Other Rats
Plain and simple, rats can attract other rats to reproduce, and share food or resources. This behavior occurs especially during the winter months (when resources are sparse and need to be shared) and during mating seasons.
The only real way to solve this issue is to repel and remove mice from your property. For a humane option, you could use something like this Gingbau Live Trap, and release them elsewhere where they can be wild and free.
Warmth And Light Draw Rats In
The warmth and light that your house emits can also attract rats. During the winter months, rats are known for finding out warm and bright spaces to build nests. Sometimes they don’t get very far, and they choose to nest in your yard next to the warm house.
Luckily this problem is usually only seasonal, and it doesn’t recur often. Aside from being conscious of your heating uses, you could try to have lights on a timer, or be diligent about turning them off at night.
Running Water Sources
One last source of attraction for rats lies within running water. Like any other animal, rats need water, and will actively create nests and live near sources of it.
In our conventional yards, some common sources of water include water features, fountains, birdbaths, rain barrels, gutters, and even sprinklers/hoses.
Reducing the amount of water available to rats can help to reduce their population in your yard!
How To Remove Rats Once They’re In Your Yard
Now that you know the reasons rats are suddenly showing up in your yard, we can discuss how you can remove them in the first place!
There are many ways people recommend removing rats, each with its own cost, pros, and cons. However, keep in mind that only some of them might be the right fit for you.
As mentioned earlier, humane traps can be a splendid solution to safely and morally get rid of your rat problem.
With these traps, you can place them out with some sort of bait, and let them do their thing! Once you have all the rats trapped, you can release them somewhere else (like a forest) so that they won’t bother you anymore.
Scents And Other Repellents
You can also use powerful scents and other repellents to keep rats away. Sometimes, using these can even get them out of an area they have already nested in.
You can use something like this Natural Armor Mice & Rat Repellent to keep them away. If you are looking for a more budget-friendly way to repel rats, however, you can also use some natural scents which repel rats. Some common rat repelling scents include:
Finding scents like these in concentrate and putting them around your property is a great natural way to repel rats. Buying them in this form is useful because it can be cost-effective, and you can choose the strength of your repellent.
Cleaning Up Around Your Property/Rat-Proofing
Another easy way to get rid of rats is to simply “rat-proof” your property. Looking at what attracts rats and getting rid of them is a great way to reduce the chances of having an infestation.
Also, swapping your traditional garden items (such as trashcans, bird feeders, birdbaths, etc.) into rat-proof versions can help reduce their presence in your yard. Blocking off areas rats like such as sheds, garages, and covered areas can also reduce their presence.
Check out our full guide on rat-proofing your garage here!
Call A Professional To Help With Your Rat Problem
One last solution is to call a pest professional to help. Pest professionals have a wealth of knowledge at their disposal, and their services are bound to make your yard rat-free.
If you don’t want to spend the time or money on hiring a pest professional, you could also call them to ask for advice. In most cases, professionals would be happy to give you some pointers to help you along your way.
If you are having trouble finding a pest professional near you, check out our handy-dandy pest professional finding resource!
That’s A Wrap!
In the end, rats can be a worthy opponent to most homeowners. If you have gardens, water features, open garbage cans, or even chickens; rats can easily turn your yard into a bed-and-breakfast.
There are a few telltale signs that let you know their presence. Some common things that hint at rats are:
- Scat and dropping
- Tracks and soil disturbance
- Squeaks or other noises
- Chewing and scratching damage
Limiting the above factors we mentioned is a great way to reduce the rat population in your yard. However, you can also use some other repellent methods such as potent scents, leaning around your yard, and calling a pest professional.
With that in mind, hopefully, these quick and easy pest pointers can help you along your journey when rats suddenly appear in your yard!
- Iannaccone, P. M., & Jacob, H. J. (2009). Rats!. Disease models & mechanisms, 2(5-6), 206-210.
- Tamayo-Uria, I., Mateu, J., Escobar, F., & Mughini-Gras, L. (2014). Risk factors and spatial distribution of urban rat infestations. Journal of Pest Science, 87(1), 107-115.
- Easterbrook, J. D., Shields, T., Klein, S. L., & Glass, G. E. (2005). Norway rat population in Baltimore, Maryland, 2004. Vector-Borne & Zoonotic Diseases, 5(3), 296-299.
- Colvin, B. A., Degregorio, R., & Fleetwood, C. (1996). Norway rat infestation of urban landscaping and preventative design criteria.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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