Voles

How to Identify and Get Rid of Voles

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Voles drive gardeners and home owners crazy! Find out how to identify and control these pests.

What Is a Vole?

Voles are small rodents that are also known as field mice or meadow mice due their similarities to mice. Two common species of voles in North America are the prairie vole and the meadow vole. Meadow voles are more widely distributed, but prairie voles are more common in prairie areas. They are very similar, and methods for controlling them are mostly the same.

Voles can cause extensive damage in your backyard garden. Not to be confused with mice, voles are happy to eat a wide variety of your plants as well as the bark of some trees. If you’ve noticed your plants being munched, be on the lookout for these cute but pesky creatures.

Voles are especially manic in the early springtime. If it helps, remember that their frenzied activity does subside. In fact, most of the year they go unnoticed.

Vole populations cycle, and about every 3 to 5 years there will be a population boom. Mild winters with good snowfall can help to increase vole populations.

Identification

How to Identify Voles

We’re talking voles, NOT moles. Voles are small, stocky rodents similar to field mice. They have small rounded ears that are often hidden by their fur, small eyes, and short tails. Their fur is generally thick and light brown to gray. Voles love fields with lots of weeds and coverage. They are active both day and night, especially evening and early morning hours.

Vole Damage

You’ll know voles by the snake-like tunnels that you’ll see all over your lawn. They’re very active in the spring and then their frenzied tunneling subsides. They love to burrow underground and will eat bulbs and root vegetables. If you have partially eaten carrots, potatoes, etc., you may have a vole problem. 

They also nest at the base of trees and shrubs which can cause damage to the roots, especially as they tend to chew the bark near the ground. The vole’s front teeth will leave ¼ inch side-by-side grooves in the wood.

Control and Prevention

How to Get Rid of Voles

Here are a few tips for getting rid of voles. Try some of these methods for your garden:

  • In small areas, trapping may be an effective way of reducing vole populations. Try live vole traps near vole runways or the nesting sites at the base of trees and shrubs. Bait traps with peanut butter. Set baits midday to early evening when voles get more active. Reset the traps as often as necessary until you eliminate the population. Relocate voles to a faraway field. The key to trapping is persistence.You may want to cover the traps so that pets and children do not accidentally find them.
  • Large vole populations can most effectively be reduced with toxic baits. There are some pesticides available for home use. Be sure to read the label before you buy any pesticide and again before you use the pesticide. Vole baits should be placed inside bait stations to reduce the risk of non-target species ingesting the bait. Most pesticides recommended for voles are restricted and can only be used by Certified Pesticide Applicators. Contact your local Extension educators for more information about pesticide use.
  • Bulb control? You can discourage voles from nibbling on bulbs by adding gravel to the planting hole (surrounding the bulbs). When you plant bulbs, drench or powder them with a fungicide to keep voles at bay. Plus, check our list of rodent-proof bulbs. Or, learn how to plant your bulbs in the fall.

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Photo Credit: Washington State University. Many of the same methods that you use to get rid of mice can be used to get rid of voles; after all, voles are commonly referred to as “meadow mice” or “field mice.”

Prevent Voles

Voles are extremely common (similar to field mice) and total prevention is probably impossible but general yard sanitation may help keep vole numbers down.

  • Voles like dense, heavy vegetative cover, mulch, and weeds because it provides them with food and protects them from predators. Make your yard inhospitable to voles! Cut back brush, mow, weed, and create a clean space. Remove woodpiles and other debris from the ground that may allow hiding places for voles. Keep grass trimmed short and bushes trimmed up from the ground. Bird feeders are another attraction for voles and should either be removed or the ground kept very clean to keep vole numbers down.
  • Voles in the veggie garden? These little critters aren’t very good climbers. Protect a garden by fencing the area with a half-inch of mesh, at least 12 inches above the ground and buried 6 to 10 inches deep.
  • Vole damage to tree bark is best prevented by encircling the tree with a light colored tree guard. The guard should be tall enough to reach above the snow line in the winter and the base should be buried in the soil or have a soil ridge around the base. Make sure that the guard is loose enough so that it does not constrict the tree.
  • Fortunately, voles are a prime food source for many predators such as snakes, hawks, owls, foxes, and badgers.
  • Another great control method is an outdoor cat or a dog who’s a ratter.
  • Vole trails in your lawn? While the damage may look visible in early spring, it is rarely permanent. Simply rake up the dead grass and reseed the area. As the surrounding grass grows it will cover up the trails.

See more about common garden pests like mice and moles.

Reader Comments

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Shadow the Vole Hunter

I have very few in my yard anymore since I have a cat (Shadow) that will kill every one she gets her paws on. :)

Voles

Whether it's my shady northern exposure or my backyard wildlife habitat with no tilling and lots of groundcovers, I have always had voles everywhere. And I was going to add to your list until I saw the last point--a cat who can patrol the garden and yard. I don't let my cats roam, but one or two go outdoors with me for a time nearly every day when I hang out the laundry and work outside. Once they discovered the garden had voles they decided voles existed as an important supplement to their diet, and the problem was, for the most part, solved. When we haven't been able to go outdoors for a period of time, my work schedule usually, the difference is noticeable. But then they manage to find a way into the basement, so at least the cats still have some environmental enrichment.

Vole elimination

I have been thinking the past few years that grubs are what attracts voles so if I use grub repellent voles won't have anything to come to.

Getting Rid Of Voles Safe And Cheap.

All you need is a plastic 5 gal bucket, 3 mouse traps and black oil sunflower seeds per set. Load and set the mouse traps close around the hole so the bucket will fit over all of them without tripping them then lift the bucket and sprinkle some sunflower seeds on and around the traps. Carefully set the bucket over the traps in the afternoon and you'll have them over night. Trap the same hole until you don't catch any more for a day or 2. To tell if they are Voles or Mole trails is easy, Voles will have a breathing hole in the run about every 4 to 6 feet, Moles won't. To get rid of the Moles use a spike trap on the fresh trails and keep moving them to the fresh trails. Patients and persistence will get rid of them without any poisons that could harm your pets.

Getting rid of voles.

This sounds like a great idea. I am going to give it a try.

voles

if you are (I assume) turning the bucket upside down, how do the voles get in? do you carve a 'door' opening or just prop up the bucket on one side?

voles

I discovered a vole like animal in my house. However, it did not have any hair. The shape of the body and the nose were identical to pictures of voles I have seen. The body was black and shinny like one would see on a beetle.

What animal did I capture?

ANSWER "WHAT ANIMAL DID I CAPTURE?"

that is a mole.

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