Annie Calovich: How to get rid of mice

02/14/2014 5:13 PM

02/15/2014 7:20 AM

I remember trying to play the game Mouse Trap when I was little.

I say trying, because my memory is that it was hard to set up – all red plastic cage and slide and bathtub, all having to be assembled just right to set in motion a progression leading to … snap.

I’ve found the same problem in adulthood.

The freezing cold (may it be gone) has driven more mice into houses this winter, it seems – at least from my experience, and other people I’ve talked to.

The stories are not pretty. One even involves … gasp … a bathtub.

I hope it’s all a moot point now, slush under the bridge. I hope the temperature highs stay above freezing until next November.

But before those last dark couple of weeks of snow cover and frigid weather are a distant memory, perhaps we can learn some things.

“We’ve had a lot of calls on mice,” Chad Betts of Betts Pest Control told me this week. “We always do in the colder winters.”

It’s a double whammy when the cold requires more food for the mice to maintain their body temperature, and then the snow covers up food sources, he said. If you’ve had or have mice – or never want to – he gives this advice:

• Don’t leave dog or cat food out, either indoors or outdoors. If mice find that, “it’s an ongoing food source. I recommend feeding in the morning and picking up remaining food an hour later.” And store the food – along with bird food – in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid. Mice can chew through plastic, but not metal.
• The old-fashioned mousetrap works, “but a lot of time you won’t get every single one of them. They’re very much like human beings in that the adults are cautious and teens are reckless. The young teens will step into traps, but the older ones … will investigate what’s new in their environment. To be 100 percent successful, baits work good.”

If you use baits, i.e. poison, be sure to place them where children or pets cannot get to them, even though most baits are in tamper-resistant containers now.

Nine times out of 10, poisoned mice will crawl back to their nest and die there, he said.

If there’s a bad mouse problem, trap first before baiting, to avoid a stench.

• The No. 1 place that a mouse enters is through an attached garage. Keep a good weather seal under the garage door and keep the door closed as much as possible. Only a professional should place a station outside because it needs to be anchored in place.
• If you place baits, put one or two in the corners of the garage, or in all four corners if the problem is very bad. Otherwise, place them under the kitchen sink and under the stove and refrigerator and in corners of unfinished parts of the basement. If you have a crawlspace, poison can be put up against the foundation around the inside perimeter of the crawlspace.
• If there is a crawlspace under the house, mice can get through holes in the floor, such as around the furnace, usually where the ductwork comes through the floor. Steel wool or, better yet, copper mesh (because it doesn’t rust) can be stuffed tightly into holes.
• Look around the outside of the house for any little holes mice can crawl in, such as where air conditioning lines come through the wall, or gas lines, or an electrical conduit. Also any place where siding is rotted at the very bottom, or underneath the siding if the foundation has shifted and the house doesn’t sit quite even with the wall. Sometimes little holes will develop there. Old farmhouses can have mice because the houses have so many cracks in the foundation.
• If you see one mouse, there usually are more around. They are nocturnal and prefer to move around at night, so if you see one during the daytime, that’s another indicator of numbers. Mouse bait may take care of the problem if you are taking care of the other deterrents.
• And if you see a mouse in a sink or bathtub, it usually fell in. But it is possible that a mouse can come up a drain if there is a break in the drain line.

Betts said that if you have mice and feed birds outside, he advises refraining from feeding the birds until you get control of the mice. If you’re trying to get mice to take a poison, they’d prefer the better bird food.

That would be a double hit to birds, which also need water and food in cold, snowy weather. It seems to me that if the mice have something to eat outside, they might stay there – until the snow covers it up, of course. Nick Clausen of the Backyard Nature Center in the Shops at Tallgrass points out that when feeding birds, using a high-quality seed is important so that filler food that birds don’t want doesn’t sit around and prove to be an invitation to mice.

Clausen said to check feed now following all the snow to make sure it’s not clumped up and wet, which is unappetizing to birds. And for birds that are now around that are insect eaters, such as robins and Carolina wrens, put out seed with the shell removed, because they’ll eat that.

And almost more important than offering food is to have open water for birds, both for drinking and for washing. Birds don’t eat snow.

Clausen will give a talk at Botanica on Wednesday about preparing for the return of purple martins, which usually happens around the middle of March. Last year, after the first few martins returned to the martin house outside his store, snow moved in, and Clausen ended up going through 25,000 mealworms for his birds. He’ll talk about how to do that supplemental feeding as well.

The lunchtime lecture will be at 12:15 p.m. and is included in Botanica admission.

The forecast is looking positively snow- and rodent-free.

About Annie Calovich

Annie writes about home and garden, including her Bit of Earth column on Saturdays. She has been at The Eagle since 1985, working as a copy editor, a nation/world editor and a reporter. She’s a KU graduate who started out at The Coffeyville Journal.

Contact Annie at 316-268-6596 or

Follow Annie on Twitter: @AnnieCalovich

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