Life in the attic

David Beeson, November 2021

We live in the country with wild creatures all around, so it is inevitable that some will select to live with us. Some are benign, but ticks and fleas are certainly unwelcome. So, what has moved in?

Let’s start with the attic – the space between the roof and the ceiling.

Now I know this area quite well, having crawled over all of it fitting loft insulation and doing the inevitable ‘jobs’ …., yes, those irritating tasks with your nose rammed in the insulation and your hands delving into some dark spot to deal with something just out of reach. Sadly, it is also the crazy spot where the electricians fitted our solar meter that needs regular reading and also the place where small mammals regularly die, with inevitable consequences for them and us.

With a bit of investigating we have found our attic is the most desirable place for several mammals: brown rats, yellow-necked mice and pygmy shrews. Happily, the rats have avoided us for some time, not so the other two species.

Brown rats. These are excellent climbers and I spot them frequently ascending garden shrubs to access both flowers and fruits. When we had a tall thin conifer growing just outside our main patio window we could spot one climbing up the verticle trunk to access the roof. It took only seconds for it to climb up and a similar time for me to cut the plant down.

Having kept ex-laboratory rats as ‘running-around-the-house’ pets I’m aware how agile, intelligent and cute they are. I’m also aware that allowing one to sit inside my woolly results in nibbled woollies. So, I worry about nibbled wires in my loft … and so rats are classed as ‘unwelcome’.

On a nostalgic note, one of our rats loved drinking chocolate and orange peel. Sally dived from my lap into a cup of hot drinking chocolate (Requiring an instant cold bath) and decided to sit eating peel in an open fire … after it had just been lit. She survived both events. Our next pet rat fell down from some open-plan stairs, breaking her leg. The vet had her up and about inside a week.

Yellow-necked (and wood) mice. We have yellow-necked mice all around us and we live below them. I guess they must jump from surrounding vegetation onto our roof to gain access. We can occasionally hear them moving around and that prompts efforts to evict them. Luckily for us, they adore peanut butter and that does the trick time and time again.

If the mice are disturbed on our outside feeders they are fearless in dropping to the ground and they scamper off with speed, seemingly unhurt.

Yellow-necked mice are the main prey item for our resident tawny owls as both are active at night.

Mice: unwelcome guests.

Pygmy shrews. Now finding these in the attic was a big surprise. They are in the garden, yet spotted infrequently, and little wonder as most are thriving in the attic!

While rats and mice are rodents, and specialise in seeds, nuts and fruits, shrews are insectivores eating small animal life. They must be after woodlice, spiders and flies.

With their canine type dentition, they should have zero impact on our loft’s wires and they are not unwelcome guests, yet are evicted when caught.

With are currently unaware of attic bats, yet they are so small they could gain access and we know folks with bats. We have a garden bat box, however, that is mainly inhabited overnight by small birds and the small, black, dry dropping of bats have yet to be seen.

Wasps, bees and hornets are often seeking homes here. They seldom are spotted until late in the year and are not evicted unless they wish to home just outside the bathroom window. A female hornet was moved on by putting sticky tape over an air vent for a week. Spiders creep in yet they are not in great numbers even while flies do occur.

Sadly, we have no birds in the attic or under the eves. We are a bungalow and attempts to attract house martins have failed, even while swallows wish to nest in our hall and will fly around looking for a good location … given a chance. We have no local swifts.

Purchasing swift, swallow of martin nest boxes would be a great Xmas present for the right person.

Starling and sparrows have shunned our attractive accommodations.

ELSEWHERE in the UK, we hear stories of edible dormice and even pine martens living in roof spaces.

Around the house. Here we spot woodlice, archaic silverfish and this year black ground-beetles that emerge only at night. As the beetles are carnivorous we guess they must be after the woodlice. In a previous home we had palmate newts as occasional visitors.

So, what do you live alongside? Do tell us!

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