Signs of autumn: geese flying south, leaves turning colour, drop in air temperature… oh yeah, and mice moving into our houses. Seems inevitable as each October night once again brings that annoying “scritch, scritch, scritch” from somewhere deep inside the walls.
However, you can’t really blame them can you? Would you prefer to spend the winter in a warm, insulated, waterproof, windproof home or in a cluster of loosely woven grasses tucked under the snow? And if there’s a bird feeder set up right outside… bonus!
Mice and other rodents have been having babies outside all summer long, and now “everybody” is ready to have more babies but the cold, wet outdoors is no place to raise a family. So the cracks and crevices of your home become the front and back doors to mouse realtors.
Now, before we get down on these cute little nuisances, realize that not all mice are home invaders. There are several species in the neighbourhood and a few are very comfortable staying outside. Indeed, a couple types even go into a deep sleep and “ain’t botherin’ nobody nohow anyway.”
These hibernators are the jumping mice, being either a woodland or a meadow variety. If you have ever kept gerbils as a pet, these jumping mice look very similar with their large kangaroo-like hind feet, upright posture and very long tail. However, gerbils look like overweight jumping mice.
Stepping sideways for a moment, a couple small critters that often get called “mice” are actually not. Moles (star-nosed and hairy-tailed) also tend to stay outside usually most of the time unless they somehow accidently, you know, get inside the garage and then you call me to say that “aha, Dave Hawke, you don’t know what you’re talking about because I have one inside my garage right now!” Sigh. Okay, but normally, usually, they stay outside.
Another little grey job is the shrew. These are actually predatory insectivores and not rodents at all. It doesn’t take much of a hole for these pointy-nosed animals to get in.
If they are in the house, they are actually looking for the little critters that came in with your firewood… centipedes, sow bugs, millipedes and such. They’re just trying to help you keep a clean house, but unfortunately shrews do smell rather musty.
And before we get back to the mice in question, the other mouse-like mammal is the meadow vole. These look like a sausage with legs. Again, more of an outdoors enthusiast than an indoors type, voles are happy to find shelter under a discarded piece of lumber in the corner of your yard. Often nick-named field mice, meadow voles are the ones usually glimpsed as they run across a walking path.
Then there are the three that might be source of those midnight noises from within the walls: house mouse, white-footed mouse and deer mouse. All are capable of wandering about your snug home whilst you doze comfortably under the comforter.
House mice are usually dark grey, have abundant whiskers and white toes. This species is found around the globe and it most often associated with grain crops and agricultural areas.
It is believed to have come to North America hidden within the original shipments of grains from Asia. If you happen to be one of those lucky people who spent your childhood on a farm, you are probably quite familiar with this dark-eyed rascal.
The last two to discuss are the white-footed and deer mice. A few reference books I have indicated that there is quite a challenge to separate these two species by physical appearances alone.
Both have that pastel brown fur, have protruding jet-black eyes and a white underbelly. And if a warm building or cottage is available, both will gladly accept your open hospitality (although perhaps unintended) to stay for the winter.
Contrary to what will be running through your mind at 3 a.m., not every mouse within a two-mile radius has moved into your house. Some, yes, but the majority are outside, avoiding owls, cats, shrikes, foxes, coyotes, mink, weasels, hawks and any other predator that utilizes the mice as an important step in energy transfer. Mice are a huge part of many food chains.
How you get rid of the ones that wake you at night with their wood-gnawing habits I’ll leave up to you. Sealing entrance holes, putting food in plastic containers, setting snap-traps or plugging in sonic noise devices are all possible solutions.
And cats, don’t forget about cats. Okay, so you have to buy endless amounts of kibble and canned food and clean their litter boxes and take them to the vet every few months… but they might actually catch the odd mouse if they really have to, I guess.