Of mice and bird seed
Two winters ago, as my wife and I pulled into the garage at night, we’d watch to see if a mouse ran up the furled badminton nets leaning against the steel shelves in the back corner of the garage. “Look, there he goes! So cute!”
I thought I saw some mousey nest material up where the wall met the roof and assumed it was headed back to safety.
If the weather forecast was for a bitter night, I’d put out four or five peanuts on the shelf to help the mice make it through the night. I felt like their giant benefactor. These were “my mice,” and I was going to make sure they survived the winter.
I lived in this Disneyesque fantasy until one event opened my eyes. I’d occasionally pick up bird- seed orders for my friend and store it in the back compartment of my car until I’d see her again. One morning, as I opened the hatchback door, I found mouse droppings on the carpet back there. (I think mice must poop more than any other critters on earth.) They reveal their presence by those little black “caraway seeds.”
Mice were getting into my car. That couldn’t be good. My neighbor, Jim, said we should check the cabin air filter. Sure enough, there were a couple of holes nibbled through it.
The mice had smelled the birdseed in the hatchback compartment. I decided I’d have to do something to stop them. And from then on, anytime I stored seed in the car, it was in an airtight metal container.
I bought a keep-alive trap to use for catch and release. I read online that captured mice had to be released at least 100 feet from where they’d been caught. I’d do better than that; I took the captive all the way to the end of the block, to the edge of the golf course. I estimated that was more than 400 feet. I was sure I was not going to have any repeat offenders.
I kept getting a mouse nearly every night. I kept a tally sheet on the wall and logged 83 mice that winter.
I suspected that our garage door wasn’t sealing tight enough. The rubber seal does touch the floor, but it doesn’t squeeze out at the ends of the door. The floor is bowed. The mice had nibbled their way through the end of the seal, but until the floor was leveled under the door, replacing the seal was only a temporary fix.
I invited my contractor friend, Tim, to come over and offer a solution to my mouse-invasion problem. Tim surveyed the garage and advised me that I had to clean out the accumulated junk before he could figure out where the mice might be getting in.
Over the summer I filled a trailer with old fishing rods, a stack of shingles, a box of pipes I’d saved from when I quit smoking 20 or 30 years ago, flower pots, moldy books, those badminton nets. . . . The process was very therapeutic.
While I was wiping the top of the steel shelving, I noticed some gnawing on the top edge of a fiberboard wall panel behind the shelves, the only fiberboard panel in the garage. I blocked the holes with a length of a 2×4.
Now the process of leveling the floor could begin. We had a concrete guy come; he suggested a trough under the door. The floor was high in the center, low at the ends.
When he was done, we had a garage-door mechanic come and adjust the door to lower completely. And then, the door sealed all across its length.
That next winter, I mentioned my mouse situation to some friends. “How far do you take them for release?” Liz asked. I mentioned my 400 foot distance. “That’s not enough,” she said. She and her compatriots at Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources had performed an informal experiment. By marking the mouse before release, they determined that it had to be taken at least a quarter of a mile to prevent its return.
Mouse invasions stopped— until this fall. I found some mouse droppings and brought out the live trap again. I caught a few, until one afternoon when I saw a patch of sunlight coming under the frame of the side door. There was a hole there, a gap in the construction. Time for the steel wool. I packed steel wool into the gap. That solved the problem.
Let this be a lesson. Store your bird seed in varmint-proof containers, metal with tight-fitting tops. You don’t want to see those caraway-seed calling cards all over the place.
Clay Christensen lives and writes in Lauderdale. His book, The Birdman of Lauderdale, is available at local bird stores, bookstores and BirdmanBook.com.