COLUMN: Mice – tiny intruders – are a sure sign of the fall

Mice are a huge part of many food chains, notes an outdoor columnist who explains that the majority of mice stay outside despite what could be heard at midnight

Signs of autumn: geese are flying south, leaves are changing color, the air temperature is falling … oh yes, and mice are moving into our houses. Seems to be inevitable, as every October night brings that annoying “creak, crunch, crunch” from somewhere deep inside the walls.

You can’t really blame them, though, can you? Would you prefer to spend the winter in a warm, insulated, waterproof, windproof home or in a group of loosely woven grasses under the snow? And if there is a bird feeder right in front of the door … bonus!

Mice and other rodents have had babies outside all summer, and now “everyone” is ready to have more babies, but the cold, wet outdoors is no place to raise families. So the cracks and crevices of your house become the front and back door for mouse brokers.

Before we dive into those cute little annoyances, it should be realized that not all mice are intruders. There are several types in the neighborhood and some are very comfortable outside. In fact, some guys even fall asleep and “don’t bother anyone” anyway.

These overwinterers are the jumping mice, which are either a forest or a meadow species. If you’ve ever kept gerbils as pets, 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 aside for a moment, a few tiny critters often referred to as “mice” are actually not. Moles (star-nosed and hairy tails) also tend to usually stay outside most of the time, unless they accidentally walk into the garage and then call me to say, “Aha, Dave Hawke, you don’t ? I know what you’re talking about because I have one in my garage right now! ”Sigh. Okay, but they usually stay outside.

Another little gray job is the shrew. These are actually predatory insectivores and not rodents at all. It doesn’t take a big hole for these pointed-nosed animals to get in.

When they’re in the house, they’re actually looking for the little critters that came in with your firewood … millipedes, sow beetles, millipedes, and the like. They’re just trying to help you keep a clean house, but unfortunately shrews smell pretty 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, voles are more of an outdoor enthusiast than an indoor type and like to find shelter under a discarded piece of wood in the corner of your garden. Meadow voles, also often referred to as field mice, are the ones that are usually seen walking along a hiking trail.

Then there are the three who could be causing the midnight noises from the walls: house mouse, white-footed mouse and deer mouse. All are capable of wandering around your cozy home while snoozing comfortably under the covers.

House mice are usually dark gray with plenty of whiskers and white toes. This species is found around the world and is most commonly associated with crops and agricultural land.

It is believed that it came to North America in the original grain shipments from Asia. If you’re one of the lucky ones who grew up on a farm, you probably know this dark-eyed villain pretty well.

The last two are the whitefoot and deer mice. I’ve pointed out in some reference books that separating these two species by appearance alone is quite a challenge.

Both have this pastel brown fur, protruding deep black eyes and a white underbelly. And if a warm house or cottage is available, both of them will happily accept your open hospitality (if perhaps unwanted) to stay through the winter.

Contrary to what goes through your head at 3 a.m., not every mouse has moved into your house within a two-mile radius. Some do, but the majority are outside avoiding owls, cats, stranglers, foxes, coyotes, mink, weasels, hawks, and any other predator that uses the mice as an important step in energy transfer. Mice are a large part of many food chains.

How to get rid of the ones who wake you up at night with their wood-gnawing habits is up to you. Sealing entry holes, filling food into plastic containers, attaching snap traps or plugging in soundproofing devices are all possible solutions.

And cats, don’t forget cats. Okay, so you have to buy endless amounts of dry and canned food, clean their litter boxes, and take them to the vet every few months … but they could actually catch a mouse or two if they really have to, I guess.

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