Is That a Vole Outside My Window?
Posted by wendiwendy
A few weeks ago, Dave noticed a flash of movement in the snow outside our front window. He kept watch and eventually saw a small dark brown mammal dart out of a tunnel in the snow. He called me over to watch, and after a few boring minutes I saw it as well. After we finished laughing and marveling (and I assured Dave that I always knew he wasn’t seeing things), we started wondering what this little creature was. A mouse?
Dave offered up the suggestion that we had voles. I’d heard of voles but had never encountered them and wasn’t even really sure what they were. We knew we had something tunneling around in the yard because we would kind of sink into the grass when we walked around in back. Dave kept saying we had moles, so when he suggested we were seeing voles outside the window, I thought they were some kind of interchangeable creature.
A little bit of Googling taught me a few things:
- Voles are also called meadow mice or meadow voles. (I have to confess, this made me think of the story of the country mouse and the city mouse … one of my favorites from childhood.)
- There is a difference between moles, voles and shrews. Moles and shrews primarily eat insects; voles are herbivores. Moles and voles both make tunnels; shrews use those tunnels but do not create them.
- Voles are rodents, about four to six inches in size, and they don’t live very long. It’s rare for them to live more than one year.
- Their front teeth are prominent (the better to gnaw you with) and they are orange. (I find this equally fascinating and repulsive.)
We were mainly concerned with whether these little cuties would mess with our garden this summer. Much to our dismay, we found out that voles do eat seeds, grains, grass, herbs and succulent vegetation. On the plus side, they aerate and turn the soil with all their digging. (Not enough, however, to prevent Dave from renting a rototiller this spring.) They also destroy weeds. Moles, on the other hand, eat insects and grubs and leave the plants alone. I actually found myself wishing we had moles, even though voles are cuter.
In the process of doing research, I found a page that compared moles, voles and shrews. Knowing nothing at all about a shrew, I started to wonder if what we have are shrews instead of voles. I followed a link to find out how small a shrew was, which led me to a photo of what looked like a dead shrew in a spoon. After composing myself (I am not a fan of looking at dead animals), I went back and tried to figure out how big the spoon was. I couldn’t tell if it was a teaspoon or a larger serving spoon. I did, however, lose my appetite.
I called Dave over to look at the photo, after explaining to him that shrews are smaller than voles (three to four inches compared to a vole’s four to six inches). He asked me to find out if shrews hibernate; it turns out they don’t. He’s convinced what we have are voles, even though I think the little guys we were seeing couldn’t possibly be four to six inches long.
I did some research on how to deter them but it looks like it’s either difficult or time-consuming to do this effectively. We aren’t interested in trying to kill them; I was hoping to find out that maybe they are repelled by certain plants.
As a side note while I’m on the topic of local wildlife, Dave brought in an injured female cardinal last week. We were in the middle of brutally cold temperatures (down to 9 below zero at night, wind chills of -25). He feeds the birds and squirrels first thing in the morning and found this little lady by our front steps; it looked like she was dragging a wing but she had no other apparent injuries. He thought maybe she flew into something, got stunned and then the cold just knocked her sideways. I won’t go into detail but she went to birdie heaven later that afternoon, sadly. What was surprising to me, though, was that we have no local wildlife refuge or point of contact for injured wild birds. There are a few for squirrels, opossums, etc. but nothing in our area for birds. (Dave is opposed to starting one ourselves, alas.)
But back to the voles. Basically we have thrown up our hands. We’ve decided to plan a really large garden, and expect to be feeding many voles as well as (hopefully) ourselves.