The field mouse, a.k.a. field vole or meadow vole, inhabits just about every region of North America. An important part of the food chain, these cute little critters are a favorite snack of snakes, foxes, coyotes, and birds of prey. House cats often test their hunting skills by stalking field mice through tall grass, and even weasels seek them out.
One would think that with so many enemies field mice wouldn’t be much of a problem for farmers and gardeners, but this is not the case. Female field mice reproduce when about a month old and can have up to six litters of three to ten mice each year.
During the summer, these mice of the meadow generally leave crop plants alone and dine on grasses, succulent weeds, and the occasional insect. They travel under the cover of grass “runways” just at the surface of the ground or burrow through loose mulch and leaf litter.
As fall approaches, mouse damage starts to show up as they start gathering and storing seeds, grain, rhizomes, and bulbs. Ground covers may provide hiding places for foraging mice, so trees and shrubs that are surrounded by myrtle or pachysandra are at risk. In areas with snow cover, field mice use this cold camouflage to tunnel between woody plants such as fruit trees, dogwoods, berries, roses, and lilacs, stripping the nutritious bark under the snow and leaving the plant girdled. Girdled plants usually will not survive the next season.
Sanitation is the key to mouse control in the orchard and around the home. If lawns and fields are kept mowed, mice will be more exposed to predators. Keep a minimum thickness of mulch around trees and shrubs to discourage burrowing, and remove thick accumulations of leaves around perennials. Protect small trees and shrubs by wrapping their trunks with plastic guards or (loosely) with wire mesh. Repellents are also available and may be useful in ground cover and other difficult areas.
You may recall that Robert Burns wrote “To a Field Mouse.” But did the mouse ever write back?