How Far Do Rats Travel From Their Nest? The Complete Guide


People have this misconception that rats are capable of traveling vast distances in their search for food, but that’s all it is – a misconception. The truth is something completely different.

A rat is only going to travel around 500 feet from its nest. This distance varies due to a range of factors, including how much food a rat can find near its nest, the current season, and the type of terrain around the nest.

Now, that’s going to put a different slant on how you see a rat, should you encounter a wild one, as it does mean that they have set up home not too far from you. This is the type of thought people hate to have, and that applies even if we have our own pet rats and love them. 

The idea of a wild rat taking up residence nearby is something we don’t want to happen. But there’s a lot more to understand about how far they will travel from their nest, so let me explain.

A rat's nest in the ceiling

How Far Rats Travel From Their Nest – (The Distance is Subjective)

Let me begin by discussing the actual distance part. I mentioned at the outset that you are looking at a rat traveling around 500 feet from its nest. Well, that’s not exactly something that is set in stone. [Source]

Instead, there are a number of contributing factors that will actually determine how far they will travel. Some will cover a greater distance, and some will cover less. 

It’s not uncommon for a rat to only roam up to 100 feet from its nest, but that’s if it is able to get everything it needs to survive within that relatively short distance.

If it places its nest in the right spot, then there are times when it may only travel 50 feet from its nest in the search for food.

Basically, if you are guilty of providing an adequate nesting spot and it’s relatively close to a constant food source, such as your own rubbish, then you are really asking for trouble. For a rat, that is like their idea of heaven.

A Rat and its Nest Can Be Seasonal

One thing to also consider is that rats and their nests are often going to be seasonal in nature. They are real survival experts, and it’s known that rats in rural areas will change the location of their nest depending on the season.

In a rural setting, a rat can create its nest close to crops that are growing and are then going to be harvested. They have a food source right on their doorstep. At that time, they will travel well under 100 feet and be able to get something to eat.

However, when those crops have been harvested, the rats will pack their bags and move to a different location.

This will often be where they are drawn closer to humans, since they need our scraps and items to feed from when they are struggling to get what they need from nature.

So, if you see a rat, and work out that it has a nest nearby, then it may not be there later on in the year when they move off to new pastures.

A Rat and its Size

The first thing to remember is that a rat is small.

That does mean that 500 feet to a rat is going to feel like a larger distance than it would do to us. It’s all a matter of perception.

We think of 500 feet as being nothing. Let’s face it, we walk way more than that in a day, but for a rat, this is a huge undertaking.

A rat has short legs. They need to take a huge number of strides just to cover that 500 feet, but then you have their genuine fears and anxieties to also think about. When you do think about those things, it puts a different perspective on this entire subject.

Also, a rat only has a certain amount of energy and speed in its legs.

If it wants to avoid a predator, which I’ll discuss later, then they hardly want to be covering this crazy distance. 

A Rat Has Fears

You need to remember that a rat has predators, no matter if we are talking about a city rat or one out in some rural area.

A wild brown rat may scare the life out of us when we see one, due to the knowledge that it will more than likely have a number of diseases attached to it, but a rat has more things to be worried about than us.

But how do you then translate this to the distances that they will travel from their nests?

Well, it’s a simple case of them not wanting to stray too far from a place of safety.

Yes, they need to get out there in order to find food and water, but they want to know that they can get back to a place where they feel safe and secure without it taking them too long.

When you are the size of a rat, pretty much everything is going to come across as being big and scary. The longer they are out and away from their nest, the higher their anxiety is going to be, and a rat doesn’t cope too well when it comes to being anxious.

So, they will restrict themselves to anywhere from 300 feet to 500 feet from their nest when it comes to searching for food, or even a mate.

They have very little interest in going beyond that distance, but some will if the situation is tough, and they are in a dire and potentially deadly situation. At that point, their survival instinct is going to kick in.

Food is Obviously Important

A rat is an omnivore. Also, it must eat at least 10% of its body weight every single day in order to live and survive.

If it fails to do this on a regular basis, then you are going to see rats going out and about during the day in the hope that they can pick up something to eat.

Wild rats are not going to feel phased by setting up one nest, which takes some work, and then moving it elsewhere if they discover that their general roaming is not coming up trumps. 

The rat is going to test the waters of what’s out there near their nest.

They will search in every single direction to suss out a good source of food and water. However, if they do not come up with anything after exploring, then they will move and start all over again.

With this idea of them moving, it’s common for a rat to move way more than the 500 feet figure I mentioned at the outset. Their drive for survival will lead them to go as far as they need to survive.

So, if they can pick up scraps, nibble away on vegetables, or anything else that they love to munch on, then they won’t want to cover too big a distance. In fact, a rat will often look at the potential food and then search for a place to create a nest, as that is the sensible way of doing things. 

Protecting its Food

I have another reason why a rat is not going to roam too far from its nest, and it’s all to do with protecting its food. If it has a great supply with a lot of food on offer, then the rat is going to do something a bit special.

What it tends to do is to get some of the food, and then take it off to a safe place and store it to eat later. That way, they can get more of the food, and feel full for longer periods of time.

Having a nest nearby means they can provide themselves with the perfect place to hide, and to then consume the food at their leisure.

When you think of it from that perspective, it does sort of make sense the entire thing of having their nest near to the things they require in order to live and function.

Three young rats in a rat's nest

Where is a Rat Going to Nest?

You must remember that a rat is not going to keep the same nest throughout its life. It will chop and change, with this being especially true if they have had to travel a greater distance just to find food.

At that point, they will set up shop elsewhere. So, that then makes me think about where the rat is going to nest. Let’s face it, that’s probably something you want to know if you want to avoid having a wild rat deciding part of your garden, or property, is going to be its next luxury pad.

In your garden, a rat is most likely to set up shop when it’s able to get into some sort of outbuilding or an area where things are overgrown. Also, they do love to set up home close to rubbish bins, as they are aware that this is going to be a potential food source for them. 

A building of some sort will provide a rat with ample shelter. They will then be likely to feel that this place gives them a sense of security, and they will happily chew their way into a garden shed to then turn part of it into their home.

But what about inside of your home?

Well, this is going to be more of a rare occurrence. After all, a rat will prefer the outdoors as it can move around more easily than trying to get in and out of a building. 

However, if they do get into your home, then they are most likely to set up a home in a wall cavity, or in the loft space. 

Basically, if there’s a part of your home that is warm, dark, and usually left undisturbed, then it may prove to be an attractive spot for a rat to set up home.

When Will a Rat Nest?

Typically, a rat is going to nest in different places at different times.

They will prefer to be outside when it’s the warmer weather, so that’s when their burrows are going to be in operation.

During winter, they want some extra heat, so they will then retreat into buildings, and that’s also the time where you will tend to see them popping up in your home.

How to Spot a Nest

So, how do you even spot that there’s a nest there? Well, there are often a series of tell-tale signs to look out for.

When looking around your garden, keep an eye out for small holes.

The holes you initially set your eyes on will often only be up to 5 inches deep, but that’s enough for a rat to get into the ground and then work its way around a series of tunnels it’s making in the earth.

There can also be a strong smell. Rat urine and droppings can be rather pungent, and that smell is going to really hang in the air. 

If you see a hole and a strong smell around it, then chances are you have a rat living in there.

Keep an eye out for shredded material being strewn around. The rat is going to chew through paper and other materials for their nest, so you will see this, and start to be able to put things together and realize you have a rat problem. [Source]

How Big Can They Get?

In general, a burrow will end up being in the region of 18 inches deep, and it will have over 3 feet of tunnels for the rats to run around. However, that’s just an average.

Instead, some rat tunnels will extend for longer than 3 feet if the situation arises. Also, the ground conditions play a role in determining the depth and overall size of the burrow part as well. 

But then, the idea of a rat nest of that size being buried in your yard is not the most pleasant of thoughts that you will hope to encounter today.

How Many Rats Could Be in a Nest?

Now, this is something that may surprise you, and perhaps may horrify you as well, but do you know how many rats could be in a single nest?

Well, if you thought that it would be one single rat, then you would be wrong. Instead, the numbers are going to directly relate to so many things that can all play a role. It seems that environmental factors are pretty important.

So, this is how bad it can get with a single nest. 

The brown rat, also known as the Norway rat, will generally have somewhere between 5 and 15 rats in the nest at any given time.

However, depending on circumstances and the environment they find themselves in, this number can be as high as 100 at any given time.

That is a scary thought, I know it sent a chill down my spine when I discovered this, as the idea of a single nest having so many rats is not a thought I ever wanted to really encounter.

Dealing with a Rat Nest

Even if you are a lover of your pet rat, you still don’t want to have wild ones in and around your home. They do carry disease, and it can also cause all sorts of structural problems for buildings as well.

The best approach is to look at getting some professional help. Don’t try to do it on your own, as you need to be sure that things have been handled correctly from the outset. 

One of the first things that need to be done is that every single rat has to be removed from the nest. You need to completely destroy the nest to stop them from simply coming back at a later date. 

If it’s outside, then it’s easier to deal with, as moving material and removing a burrow is going to throw those pathogens up into the air, so you do need to have the correct safety gear on to stop yourself from running into trouble.

The Summary

A rat is willing to travel in the region of 300 feet to 500 feet from its nest in order to search for food or a mate. However, they will travel longer distances if a lack of food and resources dictates that. 

They prefer to stay close to home as it feels safe for them. They are anxious creatures and will be aware of encountering a number of possible predators when out and about. They prefer to be close to their nest to allow them to get back there if danger is around. 

A rat is not going to just stay in one spot if they feel it’s not working out for them. At that point, they will get up and head off to find a new spot with the potential for better resources. If you don’t want wild brown rats to take up residence in and around your property, then it’s perhaps best to spend more time learning what they are looking for, and then making sure you don’t provide them with that.

Rats travel distances in order to survive. Their survival instinct is strong, but chances are that any rat you see is going to have its home closer than you would perhaps be comfortable with.

Barry Gray

Barry is a freelance writer from Scotland. He has written about pets for over a decade, and his work has been turned into a range of ebooks, courses, and material for diplomas. Barry is passionate about all animals, but particularly dogs, fish, rabbits, birds and spiders. You can find out more about Barry at https://mercurypets.com/our-writers/

Recent Posts