by Charlotte Owen
There are more than 30 million wood mice in the UK – that’s one for every two humans that live here – and they can be found in almost any habitat, often close to people. They usually go unnoticed though because they’re also very secretive creatures, and with good reason: they are food for almost every predator out there.
To avoid becoming lunch, wood mice are active after dark and their large eyes provide excellent night vision. While out foraging, they will collect and distribute conspicuous twigs and leaves to act as landmarks - something no other animal is known to do. At the slightest hint of danger they’ll escape with an impressive long-distance leap and retreat to the safety of their burrow. This is where they will spend most of the daylight hours, although braver individuals can sometimes be spotted snacking at bird feeders. Wood mice forage for a wide range of seeds and will readily take advantage of a free buffet. They will also nibble on buds, shoots, berries, fungi and eat the odd insect, worm and slug. Their sense of smell is so sensitive that they can pinpoint the precise location of freshly-sown vegetable seeds and dig straight down to the prize. They’re also partial to soft fruit but will eat only the pips, so if you notice something’s been at your strawberries you’ll know there are wood mice nearby!
As with most little rodents, wood mice don’t have a long lifespan and few live more than two years. Their strategy is to reproduce as fast as possible, and from March to October females are highly territorial and nest alone to rear their offspring, while males will roam more widely. They are sometimes mistaken for voles but when seen side by side there are some obvious differences. Voles have a blunter nose, smaller eyes and ears, and much shorter tails. Field voles are greyish brown with a very short tail and mainly inhabit grassy fields, while bank voles are a richer chestnut brown with a longer tail to aid their balance while climbing through woodland and hedgerows.
Wood mouse on a bird feeder (c) Mick Jenner Nature-on-Film
Find out more on our Introduction to Small Mammals day course on 7 April 2017