Following is a concern about advice I published in a recent article:
“I was appalled at your advice. Setting mouse traps with peanut butter and place in garden or shrubbery! I'm afraid to think how many birds will be killed being caught in these traps. Birds especially this time of year are looking for bugs and seeds. Many people put peanut butter out with suet to feed the birds. And to suggest poison! This is not acceptable outside or inside. Any little bird could be poisoned as well. Not to mentioned little kids playing finding a bait station! I would like to see you retract your advice in a future column ASAP.”
Thank you for your feedback on my recent article about preventing rodent damage to landscape plants. As with all pest management, it is important to minimize risk to non-target plants and animals. That is a fundamental principle in all pest control. I am including those recommendations again and providing clarification.
Preventing damage is best achieved by protecting vulnerable plants and by reducing rabbit and vole populations. Here are a few suggestions for homeowners to reduce risk of damage this winter.
Exclusion. This involves putting up some type of guard or fence that keep rabbits and voles from being able to get to the trees or shrubs. It is easy to protect trees by placing a 1/4 hardware cloth mesh around the trunks and settling the base of it into the soil or mulch around the tree. I use a 3-foot-tall cylinder of mesh, which also provides protection from deer rubbing the trunks with their antlers. It is usually not possible to exclude voles from around shrub beds, but fencing can be used to exclude rabbits very successfully. Exclusion is always one of the most effective methods and poses the least risk to non-target organisms.
Trapping. Voles are easily trapped by placing mouse traps baited with peanut butter in shrubs or perennial bed areas. You will want to attach the trap to something with wire so it doesn’t get dragged off. The mouse traps are not large enough to harm any pets that are attracted to the traps. Trapping rabbits is a little more involved and less successful. Most people prefer to use a live trap baited with corn or rabbit pellets (feed). The concerned reader makes a valid point that small birds that are attracted to baited traps may be inadvertently caught. This can be prevented by placing any baited traps in a box or container with an opening for voles to enter while keeping the trap out of sight and inaccessible to songbirds. If caught in a live trap, birds can be released. Check traps daily to prevent any caught animals from suffering.
Reducing cover. This is also called habitat modification. Cutting back perennials or other tall vegetation removes protective cover and makes rodents more vulnerable to hawks, owls and other predators. This can be combined with the previously mentioned methods. Reducing habitat does make rodents more vulnerable to predators. It also makes desirable birds and animals more vulnerable to predators and exposure to adverse weather.
Baits. Placing poison baits in stations that prevent larger animals from getting at them is effective for voles. This is not an option for controlling rabbits. I always hesitate to suggest baits because of the chance of affecting non-target organisms. However, baits are readily available and legal to use. I believe it best to convey information that encourages people that do choose to use baits to do so in a way to minimize risk to non-target organisms. Block type baits placed in secure bait stations that have pins to prevent them from being dragged out of the bait station will be the most secure. Proper bait stations also make baits inaccessible to young children. Keeping toxic materials including medications, detergents and pesticides out of the reach of children is an important reminder. Most households have a wide variety of potentially toxic products in them.
Do bear in mind that after consuming baits rodents will periodically enter garages, homes or other shelters. They will decompose and be a source of odor and source of food for insects that homeowners find to be objectionable in homes.
I hope these additions clear up some of my recommendations and help those that choose to manage rodents to do so in a way that minimizes risk to non-target organisms. Product labels provide information specific to all products that can be hazardous. Everyone has an obligation to read and follow these labels to minimize risk.