How to identify backyard predators

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The two rats most commonly found in NZ backyards are the ship rat and the Norway rat. Both species are neophobic, meaning they avoid new foods or situations. Just because you have never seen them, does not mean they are not present! 

The ship rat (also called the common rat or black rat) has large ears and a tail that’s longer than its body. This rat is the biggest threat to wildlife because it’s a good climber and can reach nests in trees. 

The Norway rat (also called the brown rat) is larger, with a short, thick tail and small ears. Norway rats are good swimmers and prey on ground-nesting birds, their eggs and their chicks. They are able to climb trees but spend most of their time on the ground.

If you have rats in the backyard, you may well have mice in the vicinity too. The common house mouse is NZ’s smallest introduced predator. 

For more information about rats, see our know your target predators section.

Norway rat. Image credit Ngā Manu.
Norway rat. Image credit: Ngā Manu.


Despite ongoing possum control, there are still about 30 million possums in New Zealand. Possums are a threat to our forests and native wildlife. They eat leaves, flowers, leaf buds, fruit, eggs, birds, insects and snails. In backyards, they cause havoc to fruit trees and rose bushes!

For more information about possums, see our possum facts and control tips page.


Neighbourhood cats also prey on birds and other native wildlife. See our advice on responsible cat ownership for stress-free ways to reduce the harm they can cause. Keep recommend keeping them happy and safe at home.

Three easy ways to identify backyard predators

Woman with tracking tunnel used for identifying backyard predators.
Image credit: Otago Peninsula Biodiversity Group.

1. Look for signs of predator activity in your backyard, e.g. poo, or teeth marks on fruit.

2. Teeth marks left on chew cards can help identify exactly which predators are paying you a visit. They also tell you where in your backyard the predators are visiting and good places to put a trap. You can buy packs of chew cards from our shop and read our advice on how to use them.

3. Tracking tunnels are another great way to identify predators. The predator walks through ink on a pad, leaving clear footprints you can use for identification. You can buy tracking tunnels and cards from our shop and read our advice on how to use them.

Next steps

Once you’ve identified your backyard predators, it’s time to start trapping and baiting.