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Posts Tagged ‘voles’

Sparkles on this morning’s fresh layer of snow hint at the magic concealed beneath the white covering. Hidden under is a fantastical network of tunnels, best revealed in photos taken prior to this latest snowfall…

Look just below the pheasant tracks in the photo above.  Do you see those lines beneath the snow?  Although they look snake-like, these tunnels were made by voles, little rodents with tiny ears and short tails, also known as field mice.

Meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) are active year round and make tunnels in tall grass or under the snow as they travel from one part of their territory to another.  These super highways make for speedier trips, even in unclement weather.  They also allow voles to travel undetected by predators such as foxes, coyotes, bobcats and birds of prey.

Because a thin layer of snow has melted since the tunnels were made,  it’s possible to either see through their thin top layer or, where the top layer has melted completely, see straight down through to the tunnel itself.   

Voles are mostly nocturnal herbivores that supplement their grass diet with bark and seeds in the winter months.  Although one female vole may give birth to as many as 25 pups in one year, their life expectancy is quite short .  Most voles live for less than a year due to high predation.  Their population density can range from 14 to 500 per acre.

If you’re a foodie who’s keen on wild edibles and you’ve noticed some of these tunnels in your backyard, you might be inspired to try something new by reading my previous post on Vole Holes and Recipes.

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vole

Eaten any field mice lately?  I’m guessing you haven’t.  Humans are probably the only meat eaters whose diet doesn’t include field mice, also known as voles.  Foxes, wolves, coyotes, owls, hawks, felines and snakes are among the many creatures that eat these tiny-eared mice.  Could we be missing something?

Voles are herbivores, which is a good thing if you’re a carnivore trying to eat as low on the food chain as possible.  They eat a lot of grass, pretty much their weight’s worth daily.  Ounce for ounce, there’s more protein in vole meat than beef, though you’d probably have to eat several voles to get a decent serving.  The good thing about eating voles is that you don’t have to de-bone them.  You’re actually better off eating them whole for optimum nutrition.

vole holeYears ago I came across a recipe for Souris Cordon Bleu that recommended using Deer Mice.  However, due to their association with the Hanta Virus I think I’d alter that recipe and use voles instead.  Though they are a bit smaller and you’d likely have to catch quite a number of them (especially if you’re cooking for guests), it’s better to be safe than sorry.  That recipe involved skinning, gutting and stuffing the mice with Swiss cheese and ham prior to frying them in butter and serving them with a cream sauce. 

If you don’t have time to fuss, you could simply skin them, dredge them in flour and fry in butter.  Frying them in bacon fat might improve the flavour as they taste fairly bland on their own.

The Meadow Vole pictured above lives under a birch tree near my bird feeding station.  I see him regularly dart around, usually when the birds aren’t present.  Yesterday was the first time I managed to capture him in a photo.  He’s very sensitive to sound and quickly runs into his hole if he hears me coming.  He has quite a few of these little holes in the area, so there always seems to be one nearby where he can escape.  In the winter he creates long tunnels under the snow.

Voles only live for about a year, though they can reproduce at an astounding rate.  However, their populations are not consistent but cyclical, likely affecting the populations of their predators as well.  I wonder:  Could this be why they never caught on as a staple of the human diet?

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woodpile1For small wildlife, nothing could be cozier this winter than snuggling down beneath a nice, messy wood pile, especially one that’s begun to rot.  I have several of these piles in my yard.  I know they’re well used.  Sometimes, after a fresh snow, I see little tracks to and from the piles.  It warms my heart to know that small creatures feel safe and cozy in my little neck of the woods.

Centipedes and beetles love wood piles.  They also love to eat slugs and slug eggs, which is good news to gardeners.  Toads and salamanders will hibernate beneath moist wood piles while voles and shrews will appreciate the drier ones.

Creating a wood pile is all too easy.  You gather up a few sticks and branches, perhaps stack a few logs, and place them in a spot that is off the beaten path.  Then you leave it alone.  The hardest part is accepting the fact that your yard is going to have to look a bit messy in order to be attractive to wildlife.

 

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