Roof rats on my deck eating birdseed several years ago.

Roof rats can be found throughout West Marin. At our home, they used to eat many of the seeds I scattered on our deck for birds. They still do but far less often these days.

Before we continue, you should remember it was the fleas of these rats, which originated in southern Asia, that spread the Black Death throughout Europe in the 14th Century, killing about half the people.

A roof rat takes a drink from the birdbath on our deck.

Over the years here at Mitchell cabin, I’ve managed to trap numerous roof rats that found their way into the basement where they tore up old boxes and clothes for bedding material. In addition, they twice gnawed through the dishwasher drain hose. This has also happened to other West Marin residents including our neighbors.

Some of their worst damage, however, has been to our cars. Woodrats like to use automobile ventilation systems for shelter, and they bring in bits of foliage for bedding. Cheda’s Garage twice cleaned out the mess for me.

Finally Tim Tanner at the garage told me to make sure I use dashboard controls to close the cooling system at the end of each day so the rats couldn’t get in. I started doing this, and the problem stopped. Last month, however, Lynn had to learn the same lesson with her car.

A woodrat’s ability to construct a nest is impressive. Lynn on Sunday inspected a humongous nest that rats built atop some scraps of firewood in our woodshed. Unfortunately for the rats, we had to tear down their home to get the wood.

By chance, I hired Danny Holderman of Point Reyes Station to carry the last of the logs to a woodbox on our deck. Before we drove to Mitchell cabin, we stopped by Danny’s home downtown. While waiting for him, I started looking at chickens in his coop, which is equipped with a vertical metal tube that works like a bird feeder.

While I watched, a roof rat suddenly appeared in the coop, ran up a wooden gangplank to the feeder, and disappeared inside it. When I later told Danny what I’d seen, he told me it happens fairly often.

A roof rat and towhee dine together peaceably.

Adult roof rats are 13 to 18 inches long, including their tails which are longer than their bodies. While they have been known to eat bird eggs, they, in turn, are eaten by barn owls. 

A scrub jay dining with a roof rat.

Despite their taste for eggs, roof rats often manage to get along with adult birds — perhaps because they’re so cute.