Voles, also known as meadow/field mice, are not mice, in fact. Though both of them belong to the same rodent family, they are classified into different groups.
Voles are short-tailed, blunt-faced rodents, while mice are long-tailed, pointed-nose ones.
- Typically, the former pest is dark brown or gray,
- and its size is about 3-6 inches long from nose to tail.
- It has small ears and small eyes.
But don’t get misled by its size and cute appearance – voles can be very destructive to your garden, home, garage and other areas.
Although field mice damage may look similar at first sight to the damage caused by other species of wildlife, it is completely different (if you know what to look for, of course). The most obvious sign of vole presence is well-defined, shallow surface tunnels, or “runways”, across the lawn or garden area.
Their runways look like trails of dead grass about 1-2 inches wide, or ditches of bare soil circa 1/2 inch deep. They are a result of meadow mice eating the blades and stems of grass, as well as numerous traveling back and forth over the same path.
Moles, on the other hand, leave wide volcano-shaped mounds of excavated soil behind. There are no mounds around vole’s burrows, and the diameter of the openings is like that of a broom handle. Furthermore, their burrows can be identified by small greenish droppings that turn gray or brown with time, and look similar to mouse droppings.
The rodent under study feeds not only on grass, but on all greens, seeds, tubers and roots it can reach. Therefore, your flowers and vegetables are in danger.
Moreover, your trees and shrubs are also on the line – it will eat the roots and gnaw bark around the base, ruining their protective shield and causing their dieback.
Unlike meadow mice, moles are insectivores, meaning that they aren’t interested in plants. Their diet usually consists of earthworms, grubs and insects. That’s why if you see chewed on greens, you can strike moles off your potential invaders list.
Still and all, there are other rodents that can leave gnaw marks and girding damage on trees in your yard, particularly rabbits.
To distinguish between vole and rabbit havoc, take a good look at the injured tree trunk:
- The former pest has very small teeth, thus it leaves small, irregular bite marks which have various angles.
- In contrast, the girdling of the latter pest is characterized by neat, clean cuts with a 45° angle.
Vole Control Measures
When you ensured that the pest disturbing your peace of mind is, indeed, the field mouse, it’s time to take action! And the sooner, the better.
The matter is that voles are very prolific breeders, and they can produce 4-6 litters per year. Litter sizes vary from 3 to 6. So, if you postpone facing the problem for later, they will quickly colonize the area and do much harm to your plot of land.
Broadly speaking, control falls into three categories:
- habitat modification,
- population reduction/removal.
To ensure a long-term result, you should implement all three measures simultaneously. These measures will be described in detail further down.
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How to Get Rid of Voles in the Yard, Garden and Lawn
Because meadow mice have a flair for staying out of sight and hate having open tunnels, it is often hard to find their burrows or even to figure out what pest is responsible for those devastating destructions. In addition, they can be active day and night. This, coupled with voles’ ability to multiply quickly, makes them a total pain in the neck.
Since these furtive foes don’t stay long in areas without proper habitat, you should start their extermination from making your yard/garden/lawn unfriendly to them.
Take the following steps of habitat modification and exclusion:
- Field mice prefer underbrush and grassy areas where their runways are not easily spotted, therefore keep the grass trimmed short, eliminate weeds and tall ground covers, and don’t leave un-turned leaf or grass piles.
You should also clear away any wood piles and debris that make good shelter for the rodent.
- Don’t apply mulch too close to trees and shrubs. It should be removed three feet or more from their bases.
- Your furry invaders will eat tree needles, nuts and most fruits, especially apples. So if you have any fruit or evergreen trees, make sure to keep fallen fruit picked up and needles raked up. Additionally, prune all branches hanging to the ground.
Removal of these food sources can make the habitat less appealing and discourage voles from sticking around.
- Cultivate soil in your garden or yard. It’ll destroy runway systems of these destructive varmints and may kill the pests outright.
- To make tunneling uncomfortable for voles, dig sharp materials such as Permatill or Soil Perfector into the soil.
Even a mix of about 10% course gravel to 90% soil may do the trick.
- Try barrier methods. To protect your trees from being girdled, you may wrap their trunks with 1/4″ wire screen mesh or even smaller hardware cloth (available at hardware stores). Dig the barrier to a depth of about 1-foot. It should also reach at least 18 inches high for warm regions, and those who live in cold regions should try to make sure that it is taller than the average maximum snow depth.
Also, you can put up a fence around your yard, garden or lawn. Use the same materials on the same principle as with tree screening. Remember to clear weeds and brush away from your fence.
It is to be noted that wire fencing is a rather time consuming and labor intensive task, and for owners of big land plots this can be impractical.
If you think that your plot of land is in safety at least in winter, you are completely wrong!
Meadow mice will keep making tunnel networks and will use snow as their cover. Since other foods are scarce, it is primarily during this season that girdling of woody plants occurs.
So make sure to keep snow cleared away for three feet around them.
Now let’s pass over to more tough measures of complete or partial vole removal.
Getting Rid of Voles: Poisons & Traps
Field mice eradication requires perseverance, and it can be rather tricky. To make things even more complicated, their extermination or relocation is prohibited in some states. So make sure your state is not among those.
It is better to trap this rodent species in early spring or late fall when peak reproduction occurs. Trapping voles during these seasons is a surefire way to prevent them from becoming a bigger problem.
There’s a wide variety of lethal traps for these furtive varmints. For instance, mouse snap traps are also effective at catching voles. This is the simplest and the cheapest option. You can employ one-time traps or reusable ones if you don’t mind removing dead animals from them.
Place the traps perpendicular to meadow mice runways with the triggered end extending into the path. They can be also set in tunnels or near entrances to them. Disguising the traps with an inverted box helps to make them more successful and minimize their risk for children and other animals. For maximum effect, try apple bits, oatmeal or peanut butter as bait.
You should check your traps daily, remove any captured pests and reset them. If no activity is seen for a few days, try another tunnel or runway. Never leave dead pests lying for too long – their live “brethren” will feed on them or, worse still, dead bodies may attract more dangerous and unwanted species of wildlife.
Vole traps for live capture
If killing field mice is prohibited in your state, you can remove them humanely by using live traps, such as Havahart or Sherman Traps (Model SNG). The problem with such cage traps is that you’ll have to relocate the animals after you’ve trapped them – somewhere where they won’t cause damage to someone else’s property, preferably at a minimum of half mile away from your place.
Trapping is a reasonable solution only for small populations. But it is not cost effective and impractical for managing large numbers of voles – the labor and time costs would probably be prohibitive. At least 12 traps are required for a small garden, and you may need over 50 for a large one.
Poisons for vole control
Among lots of commercial pest control products poisons hold their own. Poisoning is often the first method that occurs to people, but it isn’t, by and large, the best choice. Though poison can be an effective vole killer, it is potentially hazardous to children, pets and other wildlife. Moreover, if left in place, it can be washed off into your water supplies.
If you still want to take this course of action, you should do it in late winter or early fall, when food is scarce and the pests are less finicky about what they eat. The best and safest poison baits are Warfarin-based, e.g. Rodex, D-Con, or Kaput Mouse Blocks. These baits can be purchased at most hardware stores.
Warfarin is a slow-acting anticoagulant that prevents blood from clotting, thus leading to death. Meadow mice must feed on the bait for about 5 days to show its full effect. Try out to broadcast the poison for a week or two every other day.
Always read the product label and obey the safety precautions. To reduce the hazard of non-target animals taking the bait, place it directly into burrow openings or use special bait containers. Alternately, you can put the bait in open-ended boxes.
Though field mice pose no severe health risks due to infrequent contact with humans, they can harbor disease organisms like plague and tularemia.
Always wear gloves when you handle live/dead voles or set a trap.
How to Eliminate Voles in the House
It is a rare event that meadow mice invade a house, but still, it happens sometimes. In this case you have four options: ultrasonic pest repellers, snap traps/live traps, poisons and cats.
The scheme of indoor trapping and poisoning is the same as those outdoor actions. Vole droppings in your house will help you identify their runways. But take even more precautions to keep your children and pets from being hurt.
Ultrasonic pest repellers are devices that emit high-frequency sounds that deter different household pests. All you have to do is to plug one of these devices into a wall socket. They are available at local lumber stores. Note that these repellers can be hit and miss. Research specific brands before buying anything.
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A straightforward introduction of an outdoor cat into the house (as well as into the yard/garden/lawn) has a good success rate. Cats are excellent rodent hunters and they are very proud of their conquests. Thus, don’t be surprised if they bring “the gift” of a dead vole to you.
To cut a long story short, you have to take three most important steps in order to make vole eradication successful: identify the culprit, make your area less attractive to the pest, and use whichever method of extermination that suits you. Don’t postpone solving the problem, and remember that persistence is the best weapon.