V is for Voles
There are a number of four legged furry rodents that can invade our gardens and sometimes homes and voles, also called meadow mice, are one of them. Not to be confused with moles which are not rodents, voles are the main culprits that girdle small trees, shrubs and fruit trees. They will also construct extensive runways on the surface of lawns, leading to shallow burrows in winter time. Heavy snow cover often results in greater damage to lawns.
Voles are larger than house mice. They have small eyes and ears, short tails and heavy set bodies. They can range from 13 to 18 cm in length. Their fur is usually dark brown with pale underbellies. Voles feed mainly on grasses and seeds. They remain active throughout the winter being protected by snow cover. They are active during the day and night and have a range of about ¼ of an acre. Damage to trees and shrubs is usually done at ground level and complete girdling will result in the death of the tree or shrub. Vole populations vary widely from year to year. They periodically have high population irruptions and it is during these periods that extensive damage often occurs. Numbers in excess of 1500 voles per acre can occur in apple orchards resulting in serious crop reductions. Predators such as coyotes, fox, hawks and domestic ‘mousers’ feed heavily on voles during these population peaks. Meadow mice will occasionally enter homes or businesses but unlike house mice will not usually breed and multiply within buildings. Although these rodents are more common around country properties they are found in towns and especially in industrial areas that have extensive lawns and landscaping.
Control of voles can be difficult, especially in winter when damage goes undetected beneath the snow and is often not noticed until the spring. Seedlings and young fruit trees can be wrapped with protective guards and/or painted with a repellent such as scoot. In the fall, clip long grass and weeds and remove mulch away from the base of trees and shrubs. Traps such as snap traps baited with peanut butter or multiple catch traps will work. Rodenticides are also effective against voles. Rodenticides, when used outdoors, should be placed in rodent bait stations which will prevent non target animals such as dogs from eating the baits. Effective bait stations for home orchards or tree plantings can be made using 1 ½ inch PVC pipe in the shape of an inverted ‘T’ and staking them between the trees.
Winter is coming and so are the rodents. Along with all the other fall chores, do a quick rodent proofing check of your house. Prevention now, may save you from that poke in the back on a cold winter night from your wife with the words all husbands dread; “did you hear that noise?”