Documents: Special Interest: Wildlife Gardening:

10 Neat Things About Voles
by Dorothy Dobbie
by Dorothy Dobbie

The Local Gardener magazines, Ontario Gardener, Manitoba Gardener and Alberta Gardener, are published by Pegasus Publications Inc.

Drawing on her 30 years' experience as a senior executive in the magazine publishing industry, Dorothy launched Manitoba Gardener in 1998, initially running the business out of her home. Two years later, Dorothy's daughter Shauna, living in Ontario, jumped into the fray with Ontario Gardener. And two years after that, they started Alberta Gardener. Visit us at and register for our "Ten Neat things" newsletter. Watch Shaw TV for garden tips and Listen to CJOB for the Gardener Sundays at 9:08

June 16, 2013

There's been a big influx of voles this year so here is a repeat to help you this Spring.

1. Mighty mouse.

Often called field mouse or meadow mouse, voles are smaller than a mouse, at 3 to 6 inches long. Voles can ruin your lawn, or even destroy a whole orchard, when their numbers are up. They burrow underground, close to the surface, nibbling roots and anything else they come into contact with. They sharpen their continually growing teeth on the bark of trees, girdling the tree at its base and cutting off its life-giving supply of water and nutrients. This can spell death to a fruit tree or a young tree.

2. Vole or mole?

You see the runways, the pathways and ridges of dead, matchstick-length grass, and think it may be moles, but how can you tell for sure? Look for their tunnel holes. Moles will leave small volcanoes of earth at the entrance. Voles do not.

3. Denizens of the pukak.

Voles are one of the animals that are active all year long, even in winter, burrowing under your lawn and emerging into the pukak layer of snow. Spring time and again in fall is generally when you see the fruits of their labours in your lawn or garden. If you see one vole, there are likely a hundred more out there.

4. The better to eat you with, my dear.

Voles are omnivorous. They will eat leaves, flowers, fruit, grass, roots, bark, bulbs, insects, snails, worms, dead animals and, sometimes, each other. Cannibalism is not uncommon when populations are up.

5. Who eats voles?

Voles have a lot of enemies (no wonder). Raccoons, owls, hawks, falcons, coyotes, snakes, weasels and cats and dogs will all eat voles.

6. Filthy things.

Voles will also bite cats and dogs, are infested with lice and mites and carry some nasty diseases including the bubonic plague; rabies; tularemia which cause mouth sores, sore throats and pneumonia; and a variety of parasitic diseases.

7. Population fluctuations.

Voles are prolific breeders having up to 10 litters of four to six pups in a year. One captive vole had 17 litters and 83 young. This is bad enough but they also mature rapidly, with the young capable of having their own litters at just three weeks. In the wild in peak years, there might be 1,500 voles per acre, while in a low year, populations might fall to as low as 15 voles per acre. Fortunately, the lifespan of most voles is three to six months and many die in their first month. Breeding time is March through June.

8. Bad neighbours.

Although vole colonies have common latrines, they are not friendly neighbours, being very aggressive toward each other. The females dominate the males and the males fight amongst themselves. The males of the prairie vole and the woodland vole are both monogamous and faithful to the female, helping to raise the pups. The meadow mole, on the other hand, is quite promiscuous.

9. Vole control.

Getting rid of voles is not easy. There is no guarantee of prevention, either. You should know that voles like moist conditions so overwatering lawns could attract them. So does heavy mulching - keep mulches to no more than two inches deep. If you fear you have voles in your vicinity and are worried about young trees, wrap their lower trunks with wire mesh sunk four or five inches into the soil. To destroy them, you can use poison baits and repellents including predator urine and odours. Ultrasound repellents don't work. Traps are another suggestion, but then what to do with the trapped voles?

10. The ultimate vole control.

Ian Leatt, an inveterate gardener from the Jersey Isles, says the ultimate vole control that was employed by the folks where he grew up was simple but effective. They cut thorny sticks off rose bushes and stuffed these down the vole holes. Ian says the voles' thin skin was pierced causing the animals to perish by bleeding to death. I couldn't confirm this, but hey, anything is worth a try!

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