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Oh rats! Keep rodent pests at bay

HAMBURG — Several people have smelled a rat in the village of Hamburg, and this time, they mean the kind with whiskers and a tail. Rat sightings have occurred on the east side of the village, and Village Administrator Donald Witkowski has advised residents to take precautions against the pests, to prevent an infestation.

The administrator has spoken to the Erie County Department of Health’s Vector Control Program and Senior Health Sanitarian Peter Tripi, who said that, while the number of rats that have been found in the village do not yet qualify as an infestation, garbage and other possible food sources must be contained, to keep the critters at bay.

“We are following up on and baiting locations where the rats have been sighted and citing people with improper sanitation, to keep it in check,” said Witkowski. The main issue, he said, is ensuring that all residents keep their garbage in cans with firmly attached lids and that any loose recycling items, such as those in open-topped bins or boxes, are thoroughly rinsed.

“Peter told us that rats learn the garbage schedule and will go to where they know they can get food, at those times,” Witkowski explained. “They tend to stay 150-300 feet from their food source, so even if you’re taking care of your trash, if your neighbor isn’t, they may be living on your property and going next door to gather food for the week, then taking it back to the den.”

The village plans to send letters to residents with chicken permits, to request that those who have the birds are properly handling feed and chicken waste, both prime food sources for the rodents. A newsletter or other correspondence will go out to all residents in the near future, with tips on what to do to keep rats and other pests at bay.

Tripi also advised residents with bird feeders to clean up seed that falls beneath the feeder, since rats can eat that seed, as well. Pet waste should be picked up daily, as rats will also feed on dog litter.

“A lot of people will wait a week to pick up their yard, before they mow their lawns,” Ditkowski said. “We’re asking that you stay on top of it and pick it up daily.”

In addition, compost should be kept in approved, lidded containers, although Ditkowski said Hamburg still encourages composting and recycling biodegradable waste, from a recycling standpoint.

“We certainly don’t want to discourage people from compost,” he said. “But if it’s food waste, rats can eat that. If it’s grass and leaves, they can make a den there. So make sure they can’t get in.”

Similarly, residents with wood or stick piles should make sure they are at least 18 inches off the ground and away from walls of garages or sheds, so rodents are unable to nest in them.

Bird baths, ponds and other water features can provide water for rat colonies, so he said that residents with those installed should keep an eye out for rats in their yards and surrounding areas.

“Rats need water to live, and they’ll stick close to those sources,” he said. “So those who’ve got [water] in their yards have to be especially careful.

“Based on the calls we’ve had, Peter [Tripi] said he doesn’t think we have to worry about rabies, but we want to stay out in front of it,” Ditkowski said. He advised residents who have seen a rat to call the health department, to report the sighting and make sure Tripi’s staff can investigate the matter. Ditkowski also said that residents who observe improper sanitation at nearby properties should call the village office, so the town or village can issue citations to keep the problem from worsening.

“It doesn’t take much to jump start [an infestation],” Ditkowski cautioned. “We’re a densely-populated municipality and where you have people, you’re going to have pests.” He added that Erie County officials have dealt with the issue in Lackawanna and the city of Buffalo as well, and it was “just a matter of time” before the animals were spotted further south.

With residents’ cooperation and vigilance, he said he hoped to curb the problem before more action became necessary, at the county level.

Residents who spot a rat in their neighborhoods can call the county at 961-6800 to report it. Those with sanitation concerns can call the town of Hamburg switchboard at 649-6111, to reach the building inspection office.

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