Oh, Rats!

Julie Anderson, PRP Committee

It’s true, we have rats in SunBird. Specifically, we have black rats, which are small rodents with long tails that love to eat fruit. Sometimes called roof rats, these creatures have been seen scaling walls and the sides of houses. They typically live at least four feet above the ground, unlike mice which like to live underground or in basements. A perfect life for a roof rat is to sleep all day in a cozy, insulated attic and then come out around dusk and again at dawn to forage for food and water. Unfortunately, SunBird offers a roof rat paradise—we have lots of fruit hanging on trees and on the ground, so a rat can get what he wants (food and water) in one easy step—just eat a piece of orange, lemon, or grapefruit and then scurry back to sleep in a tree, in an oleander bush, under a roofing tile, or in your attic. We even have residents who leave pet food and water out, another way to welcome rats into our neighborhood.

While the HOA and many homeowners have enlisted the help of traps and professionals, it is going to take a group effort to eradicate rats from SunBird. We all need to do the following:

1. Pick up fallen fruit so rats aren’t enticed to a citrus buffet.

2. Eliminate pet food and water left outside, especially at night.

3. Close and tightly cover trash cans outside.

4. Prune trees so you can see the ground beneath and rake up leaves.

5. Thin out shrubs—roof rats especially like living in oleander bushes.

6. Pick up dog feces from your yard—rats love it.

7. Fix leaks, outdoor drip lines, and be wary of bird baths, A/C condensation drip lines, and saucers of water under plants.

8. Calk outside cracks and repair any holes on the outside of your home. Roof rats can squeeze through an opening the size of a nickel.

If you aren’t convinced that keeping rats out is important, consider this: Roof rats carry disease (think typhus, jaundice, salmonellosis, and rat bite fever), they multiply at lightning speed (5-10 babies per litter, 3-6 litters per year, 7-8 weeks to maturity = lots of rats), and they can cause major damage from gnawing your drywall, your electrical lines, and your insulation. They gnaw on anything to keep their front teeth from growing too long, and they can gnaw through hard plastic, wood, and even concrete. They are aggressive, too. They will bite if they feel threatened, so don’t try to catch or corner one.

Once they are attracted to your yard, it is only a matter of time before they will decide to take up residence in your attic or trees. They are social creatures, and live in packs, so if you see one rat, chances are it has a nest of buddies close by. They roam about 200 to 300 feet at night in search of food, which means rats may be feasting on your neighbors’ fallen fruit and then sleeping during the day at your house. If they feel lazy, they will travel down the inside walls of your house and enter your kitchen through pipe holes and scrounge for food. November through May are the months they like to move inside and have a warm nest, so now is the time to pull up the welcome mat and clean up your yard.

How do you know if rats have chosen your neighborhood? You will notice any one or more of the following:

1. Fruit on the ground is hollowed out or half eaten, leaving a shell

2. Damage to electrical wire covers

3. Rat droppings that are cylindrical, smell of rat urine

4. Pets are anxious, looking up at the ceiling. Pets can pick up the scent and noise of rats sooner than we do.

5. Noises from the walls or attic; scratching and gnawing sounds around eaves and on outdoor structures

The very best thing to do is stop the invasion is to deny rats shelter, food, and water. They will move on to an easier target if our community doesn’t offer a citrus buffet. Denying them shelter is complicated, given they can squeeze into an opening the size of a nickel, so our best line of defense is to cut off their food and water supply. If you suspect they have entered your area, call a professional pest control company. Tell your neighbors if you see any rats, so we can all work on this together. Don’t try home remedies or unproven methods; in the time you spend soaking cotton balls with peppermint oil or citronella, the rats will have adapted to the smell and multiplied their brood.

For additional information, call the Maricopa County Environmental Complaint line at 602-506-6616, or visit their website at www.Maricopa.gov/envsvc. Let’s band together and do our part in keeping roof rats out of SunBird.