Tuesday, January 15, 2013


Once upon a time there was a kingdom filled with rats.  Luckily the villagers were able to hire a pied piper to lead the rats away from the kingdom, and all was saved.

Of course they could have saved themselves money and having their children kidnapped if they had encouraged birds of prey to live there instead.  Rats and raptors go hand in hand like cats and cream.  Most birds of prey eat rodents like rats or mice.  
Rat meat is one of the most nutritious of all the foods that we feed our birds and it is definitely their favorite.
Rats are very important at World Bird Sanctuary, but not all rats are food.  We have five rats at World Bird Sanctuary that help to educate the public about their species and the importance of raptors in the food chain.

Nimh, Templeton, Triscuit, Skittles and Jellybean all reside at World Bird Sanctuary.  Triscuit can be found in the Nature Center and in various educational programs, like Creatures of Myth and Legend.

Nimh, Templeton, Skittles and Jellybean live in our behind the scenes area and travel with us for the educational programs we present at zoos, theme parks and aquariums.  There they run on grape vines before each show as a kind of comic relief.  Training them to run on these grape vines only takes a few weeks.  Most people do not realize that rats are fairly intelligent and can be trained easily to follow a target, run a maze, and in some cases to use a litter box.
Rats are a very important part of our Education Programs
All of our rats are very sweet and love being handled, especially Nimh and Templeton who love to climb up onto our shoulders and sometimes hide in our hair.  Rats make excellent pets, though they usually only live about 3-5 years.  They are easy to care for, needing only a cage, water bowl, a place to hide and a few toys to play with, and of course an exercise wheel.  Nobody wants a fat rat! Most importantly though, they need things to chew; all rodents, from the South American Capybara, the world’s largest rodent, to mice, need to chew because their incisors (front four teeth) are constantly growing.  Chewing hard objects, like the shells of almonds, helps to keep the incisors at a healthy length.  Their incisors are also used to shred up objects for nesting material.
All of our rats enjoy being handled
Rats are amazing!  Those tiny teeth of theirs are not only constantly growing, but they can also cause quite a nasty nip.  Rats have 24,000 pounds per square inch of biting power and they can even chew through a solid steel drainpipe…with their teeth!  Rats are excellent swimmers and can tread water for up to three days.
Have you ever wondered how mice get into your house?  They have collapsible skeletons and rats can fit through a hole the size of a quarter—mice can squeeze through a miniscule hole! 

Rodents are unable to throw up (the body’s way of purging toxins), so rats must take tiny bites of all of their food to make sure it is safe to eat.  They are one of the only other animals besides humans that are able to digest chocolate.
Rats are prolific breeders!  A pair of rats, their offspring, and so on, and so on, without any controls on their population, is capable of producing over 1,500 more rats in only one year if they all survived.  Imagine 1500 rats running around in your home or yard; sounds kind of scary doesn’t it?  This is why birds of prey are so important; many different species of birds of prey eat a steady diet of rats and mice, which helps to keep these populations in check.

As Nimh, Templeton, Skittles and Jellybean run across the grapevine, they not only make people giggle (or scream), but they teach them important lessons about how we need birds of prey around, not only for ourselves, but also for the good of the environment.

Submitted by Leah Tyndall, World Bird Sanctuary ETC Naturalist/Trainer 


Lemayrenee said...

Very interesting. I did not know about their teeth always growing. However, I am still not to happy to see a mouse in my house!!!!!

Katie said...

Very, very interesting! I never knew they had collapsable skeletons! Cool stuff, Leah! I hope you are doing well!