Early in the pandemic, the city of Chicago reported a marked change in rat behavior. As restaurants shut down completely, rats began to seek out residential neighborhoods and homes for food, causing an increase in problems for homeowners.
Across the country, pandemic-related changes in rat behavior prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to put out guidelines related to rodent control.
“Some jurisdictions have reported an increase in rodent activity as rodents search for new sources of food. Environmental health and rodent control programs may see an increase in service requests related to rodents and reports of unusual or aggressive rodent behavior,” reads the CDC’s information page on COVID-related rat problems.
In Forest Park, residents have been complaining about rats a lot recently. They’ve taken to Facebook to talk about seeing rats, some described as being “as big as cats,” especially at night, which makes sense since rats are nocturnal.
At the July 27 village council meeting, Commissioner Joe Byrnes said he’s received several calls recently about the problem of rats in the village. Commissioner Ryan Nero reported the same, adding that there are steps residents can take to eliminate potential places for rats to live and breed.
Mayor Rory Hoskins said the village has gotten complaints about nuisance properties in town, including 7301 Roosevelt Rd., which the Review reported on recently. And properties hosting severely overgrown vegetation or hoarding materials will face a penalty.
“We have instructed staff to begin ticketing properties that are really neglecting the upkeep of their property,” Hoskins said.
Director of Public Health and Safety Steve Glinke said in an interview on July 27 that calls about rats this time of year are typical; the volume of complaints hasn’t really changed from previous years, and there are concrete steps residents can take to make their property less attractive to rodents.
Rats, said Glinke, need three things to survive: food (generally in the form of garbage), water (often stagnant pools) and somewhere to harbor or burrow.
While eliminating garbage and water is generally easy for a concerned homeowner, harboring is more of a problem, since rats like to burrow and can find refuge in all sorts of places.
Forest Park has a rat prevention plan and tips on how to keep your property rat resistant.
Eliminate sources of food and water
Rats will eat nearly any type of food, although meat and grains are their preferred cuisine. Pet waste is a favorite too.
“Dog crap is like caviar to rats,” said Glinke.
The village recommends residents do the following to reduce food sources for rats:
- Keep garbage in trash cans and dumpsters with tight-fitting lids. Rats can chew through plastic bags.
- Rinse cans and bottles before you put them into the recycling bin.
- If you feed pets outside, remove the food dish after the meal and collect pet feces daily. Cleaning feces in the evening makes this food source unavailable to the rats to feed on overnight.
- Be neat if feeding birds and squirrels, which can attract rats. Do not throw bird food on the ground. Use feeders and regularly rake and remove spilled seed.
Eliminate potential rat shelters
Rats live outdoors and indoors. They’ll make homes in walls, attics and basements. They’ll burrow under porches and garages, sneak into crawl spaces and sheds.
They often enter buildings where gas or electric lines pass through walls, behind gutters and through damaged or missing window screens. It is recommended that homeowners regularly check these areas for holes and make repairs using sturdy materials.
Rats are good climbers, so keeping tree branches trimmed near homes is advisable.
Rats also like to burrow, building nests in tunnels. According to the village, burrows are often found at building foundations, under steps, and beneath low vegetation or shrubs or piles of debris.
A freshly dug burrow will have an entrance about two inches wide with a mound of soil next to it. Surrounding soil and vegetation flattens into paths.
To avoid rats burrowing in your yard, eliminate weeds and keep vegetation neatly trimmed, especially around trashcans and food sources. Remove all debris. Keep grass neatly trimmed to discourage burrowing.
Even compost piles and bins can be a problem, attracting rats with a potential food source or burrowing haven. Eliminating food waste, even vegetable scraps, from compost in favor of yard waste can reduce the temptation for rats to enter your compost bin. And keeping compost contained can help too.
Forest Park contracts with Smithereen to set bait stations around the village. Pre-COVID, Smithereen was coming out weekly to check bait stations. With finances tight, they’re coming twice a month, but in hot spots around town village employees check the traps every other day.
More information on Forest Park’s rat prevention program can be found on the village website at forestpark.net/dfp/departments/health-safety/.