About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Do Voles Hibernate?

Winter Tunnels
The Meadow Vole Microtus pennsylvanicus is the most widespread vole in North America. About 5 inches, long counting their stubby tail, voles destroy many weeds especially weed grasses, recycle the nutrients held in the grass through their droppings, aerate and turn the soil through their digging activities, and serve as food for of weasels, snakes, foxes, coyotes, all owls, most hawks, and domestic cats.

Voles do not hibernate and have many survival tactics that they use over the winter months. Once winter has spread her blanket of snow, the meadow vole, also known as a field mouse, spends the winter constructing a labyrinth of snow tunnels. The tunnels provide a steady environment protecting these animals from the normal fluctuations of cold and wind. The temperature is often several degrees warmer in the tunnel.

Following the tunnels may lead you to the dining area where food was readily available. It may lead you to a bedroom where you will find a ball of fine grass and maybe some cattail fuzz for warmth. Following it further may lead you to the backdoor used for escape.

The vole’s tunnels provide a certain amount of safety. All their needs are provided under the cover of snow. They seldom travel out of the tunnel. Predators like hawks and owls must wait above the snow and let their ears detect the pitter pat of a vole feet as they run through their tunnels.

Next time you are out walking in the winter, think about who may be just beneath winter’s blanket.

University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology (Microtus pennsylvanicus)


Tom's Eldon Landscaping said...

My cats have caught a few of these this winter. I thought voles fed on the roots of perennials. Not exactly the cute, fuzzy critters you are depicting here.

Wild Birds Unlimited Mid-Michigan said...

There are several species of voles, as well as moles, shrews and mice that all look and act similarly.

I have one at the store that aerates the small perennial bed out front. When we opened the store 6 years ago there was nothing at the entrance but eight inches deep of old wood chips and dying bushes. I tried to amend the soil but I'm convinced the birds, squirrels, toads and other animals helped my garden flourish with their scratching and digging.

We have a neat local guide to mammals at the store that is full of fun facts.

But according to the University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology: Meadow voles feed mainly on the fresh grass, sedges, and herbs that are found locally within their range. They will also eat a variety of seeds and grains. From May until August they subsists on green and succulent vegetation. During the fall they switch to grains and seeds, and during the winter they have been known to feed on the bark of small trees. When this species overlaps the range of cranberries, meadow voles feed extensively on these fruits. They also eat other types of fruit. Meadow voles are voracious eaters, consuming close to 60% of the body weight. When eating, these animals sit up and will stand to gnaw bark or a grain stalk.