April 7, 2021

Chris Roberts won’t come out for birds. Or squirrels. He doesn’t answer calls for mice or wasps, bats or bees. But when someone in Multnomah County has a problem with rats, Roberts will come to the rescue. 

Vector Control Specialist Chris Roberts is the County's only rat tracker. But he wants everyone to learn his tricks.

Warmer temperatures and dryer, longer days are an annual reminder for Roberts to prepare for his busiest time of year as the County’s solitary rat tracker. People are spending more time outdoors, gathering to feed one another — and as they do, of paramount concern to Roberts, they’re also feeding the critters that live nearby.

Roberts fields as many as 700 complaints a year, the bulk beginning in the spring and cresting in summer months. He visits as many as 500 properties across the County, from restaurants to schools, grocery stores to hospitals. But mostly he goes to people’s homes.

Roberts is in high demand and only responds to rat requests. But he can offer tips on selecting a pest professional to tackle problems with other rodents, insects or bats.

Got Rats? Call Roberts.

Multnomah County Vector Control helps residents locate rat access points and identify the food sources that attract rats. Vector Control is not an exterminator, but Roberts will perform a property assessment, recommend ways to rat-proof a home and yard, and offer covered snap traps and bait stations to kill the rats.

These services are always free. Just call Vector Control at 503-988-3464 to learn more or schedule an appointment.

Before calling in the expert, there are many steps a property owner or renter can take on their own to make a property inhospitable to rodents, which can carry dangerous bacteria like Salmonella and Leptospira or the Sin Nombre virus, which causes the life-threatening Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.

Rodents also cause serious damage to structures, chewing through insulation, wood and wires. That damage puts a property at risk of fire and flooding. And that is just the tangible damage, Roberts said. 

“I had a mouse in my crawlspace, and it was chewing on a piece of wood. It kept me up all night,” he said.

And you don’t have to wait to see a rat run across the dinner table before coming to terms with a rat infestation. Rats leave other evidence — grease smudges on corners, droppings on the ground, burrows in the dirt and tiny worn paths through the grass from one hiding spot to another. You might find a path that beelines for a bird feeder, or from the crawlspace to a woodpile.

Roberts tells residents to look for holes around the exterior of the building where rodents might enter. He doesn’t need to see iPhone videos of a rat or piles of poop in person before offering his aid.

“I don’t need to see all the evidence,” he said. “I believe you have rats.”

But more importantly, Roberts says, look for the food. Anywhere food is found, rats are sure to roost. Rodents are attracted to places where they find food and the most common sources in Multnomah County are bird seed, chicken feed and backyard compost. 

These food sources all have one thing in common: Humans put them out. 

Bird feeders are the leading culprit, but chicken coops are a close second. Unsecured backyard compost piles — not the curbside bins — also offer an endless variety of decomposing human fare. And increasingly, the offerings humans make to their neighborhood squirrels are causing problems.

“Peanuts. Peanuts,” Roberts groaned. “ Too many peanuts!”

Rat-proof your property

Check for holes, even as small as a dime, where rodents might sneak inside.
The best way to control rats is to focus on what attracts them, and usually that’s food. Once you’ve identified their food source, you’ll want to secure or remove it. Finally, set mechanical traps or chemical rodenticides to kill them. 

If no food sources are found, but rats are still around, shelter might be the offender. Elevate wood piles, cut back overgrowth and haul away debris. Then inspect the siding for holes—mice can squeeze through a hole the size of a dime, so find those holes and seal them.

“But really, it's all about food. Finding the food is the main goal,” Roberts said. “It all starts with someone feeding them, and it’s the most difficult part: getting the human to change their behavior.”

The easiest way to get rid of rats is stop feeding other critters for 30 days. But that’s a difficult pitch to Portlanders who look forward to spring visits from the sunny yellow Goldfinches, bustling Rufous Hummingbirds or red mustachioed Northern Flickers.

Here’s what Roberts recommends:

  • Bird feeders: Bird feeders should be hung from a shepherd’s hook that is at least 6 feet tall, with a squirrel baffle at the base and a seed hoop to catch any seeds that would otherwise fall to the ground. Place the hook at least five feet from any building, fence or shrubbery to keep rodents and squirrels from jumping onto the feeder. 

  • Squirrels: Set out only a handful of peanuts at a time and stay to watch the squirrels enjoy them. Make sure the nuts are all gone and pick up any that remain.

  • Chicken coops: There are a few ways to keep rodents out of the coop. Build a coop with hard materials such as 1/4 inch hardware cloth. Keep doors and hatches closed to prevent easy rodent access and ensure doors are well-sealed. Keep the coop clean, and take any eggs each day. Consider placing chickens on a feeding schedule — usually 15 minutes mornings and nights — and pull up any remaining food.

  • Composing: Curbside bins are rat resistant but backyard bins and piles can be built that way too. Line a homemade bin with steel screening or buy an elevated composter. 

Often when Roberts comes to call, he finds an infestation caused by a neighbor’s rodent buffet. 

City codes require property owners to maintain land in a way that keeps rats away, and while Roberts can take a complaint, it’s the city government that must step in to take action against a negligent neighbor.

Usually the neighbor is an unwitting accomplice and welcomes a chance to cut short a rodent’s feast. That’s why Roberts encourages people to talk with their neighbors. And he said he’s always happy to share what he knows as well.