What Spring Brings in Western Oregon

Julia Hubbel, Walkabout Saga, Horizon Huntress

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The neighbors I don't much want know

Yesterday morning I walked into my kitchen at about 4 am. Over the last few weeks I'd been watching the bird population increase, particularly because I've put up multiple suet stations next to my kitchen window. When I saw the remains of the sunflower seeds on the sill, I just assumed. Nightime feeders.

Bad move.

I saw some activity on the suet station, and the realized I was gazing at a long black rat tail. When I turned on the light, he gazed back at me with those insolent, oily black eyes, then disappeared.

Oh, gah. Norwegian rats are an imported pest in Oregon, and they are an increasing issue particularly after the food supplies offered by restaurant dumpsters dried up. They now are going after bird seed and suet, as at my house. I have a wood pile, which is perfect nesting ground. Honestly, I had one last year, the exterminator came out and told me not to worry.

Am now. Because if he's still here, that means that black cat that prowls around here hasn't caught him yet. If it's a she, that five-dollar-apiece suet for the woodpeckers is going to feed her brood.

OH UGH.

Here's what to know about the Norwegian rat issue in Oregon:

https://www.kezi.com/content/news/Coronavirus-exacerbated-rat-problem-professionals-say--573174851.html

The first thing I did was move the suet station onto a tree which at least makes it a lot harder to much. I am calling the exterminator today. Since we also had a very mild winter, which is adding to our growing issue right now of a fast-moving fire season in NW Oregon just after so many of us are still reeling from last year's disasters, we are going to have a nasty tick and flea season too.

A pestilence for both our pets and our pet projects, if you will.

Speaking of projects.

While I understand that it might not be quite fair to consider our local suppliers in the construction business rats, this much I will say. I have a big project that needs to be done, removing old railroad ties which have a bad habit of leeching arsenic into the groundwater. They're from 1977, and they are full of termites. It's a big job, excavation and boulders and rebuilding into a hillside. Moving mature trees and, well, you get it.

Last year the bill was $10k. That same contractor- and this is NOT his fault, it's the materials, the same project is nearly $20k. Add in fixing the sprinklers and the landscaping to fix it after all that upheaval, and you're looking at more than I made in income all last year and then some. It was a tough year, and on top of that, the costs have skyrocketed. With so many of us freelancers having had to scramble to survive, it would be fair to say that the padding that we might have had in our collective bank accounts is probably a touch anorexic, if not down to the bone. Or, more frankly, much of that padding is in the red, in our credit card burden. You might be able to relate.

My contractor told me, and this is the rat part of it (my opinion) that as long as these guys can get that kind of price, which is now something like 300% of what those materials were last year, they won't back down.

THAT is a pestilence, if you will. Same thing with real estate prices. This house, which I bought last August, has leapt in value close to $130k. That is the entire price of a home I bought in Durango, Colorado, back in 2000. Takes the breath away, just as the size of that Norwegian rat surpised the hell out of me.

Other members of the rodent family, are, for so many of us, a lot more acceptable. We're good with squirrels (now that I found a squirrel-proof bird feeder that actually works, hallelujah). We're good with chipmunks. I guess cute works. Rats, not so much.

Here's why:

https://www.413pestfree.com/blog/post/common-problems-norway-rats-cause

From the article:

Since Norway rats are very poor climbers, you will find them in basements and lower-level floors of your home. You will recognize them by their brownish-gray fur and by their size. These rats are around 10 – 12 inches long including their tail. You would think that due to this large size they would be easy to spot, but this is far from the truth. They are fast and they are expert hiders and know how to sneak about without being detected, especially if they are fairly new to the recesses of your home; but it won’t be long before they breed and a large colony shares your home. Each female will produce five litters per year with 7-14 pups in each litter. This means that a single female Norway rat finding refuge in your home can turn into no less than 35-70 offspring sharing your space in a year and keep in mind that some of those offspring will be female which will be able to reproduce 5 weeks after birth. The multiplication factors here are mind-blowing.

They are also disease-spreaders, can chew through all kinds of important wires in your home. So.....I just got off the phone with my local exterminator. He's busy this year, for good reason.

So, get rid of the external food sources. Compost piles, any easy access to free food. At the first sign of infestation, get busy. While you may not be able to influence what your neighbors do with their trash (all of mine have their trash cans outside, and the tops are open, which is tantamount to a Sunday smorgasbord), at least around here the pickings are going to be tougher to secure. I'm thinking about an outdoor cat, too. The cat will also go after the birds, of course, the squirrles and those cute rodents of which we approve, in our human way of making one rat good and another bad.

The good news is that spring here in the southwest hills, unlike spring last year when I first booked a hostel room in Whitaker to start looking for homes, is full of promise. There are challenges. But no more or less here than anywhere else I've lived. In Australia I had to deal with poisonous snakes, spiders, fish and jellyfish. In Florida, there were rats, cockroaches large enough to carry your luggage for you, and every kind of spider, snake, mold and mildew issue imaginable. In Colorado, we had dust, mice, rats and who knows what else. Oh, yes. Rattlesnakes on our trails and the occasional cougar or bear. After all, we're on their territory, not the other way around.

There is no such thing as a perfect place devoid of pests, otherwise known as Wildlife We Don't Like. There is, however, the perfect place for us to learn to juggle the challenges they present. Quarantine made more than just the deer and goats bold. We're getting re-acquainted with what's been around this whole time.Which isn't such a bad thing. Nice to know who the neighbors are- including the ones we don't normally see.

For my part, the explosion of cherry blossoms which has carpeted my side street in petals, the early roses, azaleas and bright pink rhodendrons are worth the trouble. Two young Japanese maples are already leafing out in my back yard. I live where firs are so tall that if a storm blows one onto my house, well. I might be happy to have a camping go-bag, if I survive. Such is forest life. You pays your money, you takes your chances.

And sometimes the first thing you encounter is a big fat raiding your bird food. Which is a lot like corporate America, but that's another article. These rats, I can do something about.

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Eugene, OR
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