Voles are small rodents which look a lot like a large mouse and are commonly referred to as a field mouse or meadow mouse. They are short and compact with small eyes and mostly hidden ears. Though most are brown or gray, colors vary since there are over 20 species here in the United States. Voles can be found in every state and though they reside outside, the damage they can in the yard is extensive. Unlike most small rodents, voles will be active day or night. They won’t hibernate and it’s not uncommon to find their burrows through freshly fallen snow. This article will provide some basic biology about voles, explain why they are a problem around the home and then explain all options available at this time for vole management.
JUST WHAT IS A VOLE?
Voles are small rodents that grow to 4-8 inches depending on species. They can have 5-10 litters per year. Gestation takes for 3 weeks and the young voles reach sexual maturity in a month. Needless to say, vole populations can rapidly grow from one or two to many within a very short period of time. Since litters average 5-10 young, a single vole in the yard can become 50 or more in less then a year.
Voles are commonly mistaken for other small animals. Moles, gophers, mice, rats and even shrews have similar characteristics and behavioral tendencies. Since voles will commonly use burrows with many exit holes, they can be mistaken for gophers or some kind of ground squirrel. Voles can create and will often times utilize old abandoned mole tunnels thus confusing the land owner into thinking that moles are active. When voles find their way into the home, they are readily identified as mice or young rats. In fact, voles are unique and best described as being a little bit like all the other animals they are so commonly thought to be. Like moles, they will readily thrive on small insects including grubs which are one of their favorites. Like shrews they will eat dead animals and like mice or rats, they can live on most any nut or fruit. Additionally, voles will target plants more then most other small animals. It is here where there presence is mostly evident. Voles will readily “girdle” or eat the bark of small trees and ground cover much like a porcupine. This girdling can easily kill small, young plants and is not healthy for trees or other shrubs. Voles love to eat succulent root systems and will burrow under plants or ground cover they are particularly fond of and literally eat away till the plant is dead. Bulbs in the ground are another favorite target for voles; their excellent burrowing and tunneling will give them access to sensitive areas without clear or early warning. It is far too common to learn you have a vole problem only after the extent of their damage and feeding is mapped out on your landscaping in the form of dead plants.
Voles can do all kinds of damage. Girdling is the more obvious; bark which is eaten is readily visible and apparent even as it is happening. Vole damage to plants is sometimes not so obvious. As voles consume the roots or bulbs of plants in the yard, this below top soil activity is not so easy to see or acknowledge. Sometimes one does not know that their beautiful tulips have been eaten until they wonder why they aren’t growing anymore. Above ground damage in gardens is sometimes written off as insect activity or some other animal but since voles like just about any vegetable, they will readily prey upon most anything grown in the average garden. Flower beds and mulch piles are other areas voles will find an abundance of food and just because you have a large yard with a lot growing, don’t think the local voles won’t have an impact. Since they multiply so rapidly, small initial activity can quickly become out of hand. In fact, their trademark tunneling is one of the more common landscape problems they create.
VOLE TUNNELS AND DENS
Vole tunnels and dens will become well structured and dispersed if left to their own. The main dens will be similar to gophers; several entrances and exits leading to water and run off issues. The tunnels they create as they forage for food will indirectly kill grass and other plants as roots are chewed or severed. Leaving burrowing and tunneling voles to do as they wish is not a good idea. If you see activity, confront it sooner rather then later. Dealing with a few voles will make the task a lot more manageable; waiting till the local population is well established will cost more in time, energy and equipment.
Voles are easy to control. There are several treatment options. Adapt the one which you feel both fits the situation the best and is the one you are most comfortable implementing. In most cases, there won’t be one magic cure. Like most integrated pest management, the more tools employed the better the results. Vole control could involve trapping, baiting and repelling.
One of the oldest methods of killing voles is to “gas” them. GIANT DESTROYERS are basically a sulfur based smoke bomb. It has a fuse and looks like a fire cracker. Set it in the burrow or tunnel, light the fuse and force it in attempting to cover the hole most of the way so as to keep the sulfur smoke in the ground. Be sure not too cover it so much that the fuse goes out and the “bomb” won’t burn. When burrows and tunnels are short and minimal, this approach can work. However, large infestations will have created too many escape hatches and passage ways so it’s not likely such an effort will prove to be totally effective if you have a large infestations.
The next easiest way to control an active situation is the use of some type of rodent bait. There are limited products available specifically for voles because most active vole populations will readily feed upon any one of several rodenticides commonly found in the professional pest control market. The trick is using one which best fits the situation. If you aren’t 100% sure you have voles, there are many options that could be better to try. This decision will be based on where you are seeing the activity and the region of the country where you reside. For example, if you are in a part of the country where gophers are a problem, the use of a GOPHER BAIT could make sense. Voles will readily feed on such a bait so you could get success one way or the other. If you think the problem could be moles or voles, MOLE BAIT would be the way to go. If you are 100% sure it’s voles, ZP BAIT would probably be the best route. Voles like this formulation and will readily accept the offering. If you have a lot of baiting to do, the use of a Bait Applicator will make the task a lot easier. Use the GOPHER BAIT APPLICATOR for applying the Gopher Bait. It can handle this material well but will only work for the Gopher Bait; no applicator can handle the ZP or Mole Bait due to it being a bit larger.
If you don’t want to use any type of bait for fear of non-target animals getting injured, the use of traps should be considered. There are several types and most will effectively trap voles. If you have a large species active, the EXPANDED TRIGGER TRAPS are very effective device. Use them if you have many entrance and exit holes. Place these just outside the holes and bait with either PECAN PASTE or LOGANBERRY PASTE depending on what the voles are most likely feeding upon. If non-target animals are present, use some STEEL TRAP COVERS which will both prevent non-target animals from ruining your set as well as keep the bait fresh and protected from the rain and sun. If you don’t have any such holes visibly apparent and aren’t sure if you have voles or moles, TUNNEL TRAPS could be employed. These are set in the tunnels and work great for both moles and voles. Another common in the ground trap to use is the SPEAR TRAP or CINCH TRAPS. All are very effective when used right and it’s more a matter of preference when deciding which model to use.
VOLE CONTROL REPELLENT
If you have voles on your property nesting and feeding, chances are others will be coming around. This is due to the odors and pheromones left behind by the once active voles. These odors will attract new ones for a year or more. Furthermore, if you have good food supplies combined with good nesting soil in which to burrow, it only makes sense that others will come around. To keep new activity minimal and unwanted voles off your property and out of the yard, you may want to set out some type of vole repellent. There are many available and most will help. The key is using the right one which will vary from situation to situation.
If coyotes are present, applying some COYOTE URINE along property borders may keep any foraging voles away. Coyotes are natural predators of voles and the odor of coyote urine may be enough to alarm the and make them forage elsewhere. Barn owls will readily feed on gophers or voles so placing a BARN OWL BOX out could get some to nest on your property. This will indirectly keep the population down because the owls will need to eat and by having them live on your land the odds are high they will eat many types of small rodents around your property thus keeping local vermin populations in check.
VOLE CONTROL SPRAY
A more direct approach to using repellents is to target something the voles want and treat it with an agent they find offensive. There are many such agents available. ROPEL LIQUID works great at stopping voles from chewing plants or bulbs. If you about to plant some new bulbs, first spray the open ground and then treat the bulbs directly with the Ropel. Voles will not be able to feed upon any which are sprayed this way; the taste is intolerable by them. 4-THE-BIRDS GEL or 4-THE-BIRDS LIQUID is another repellent which works great on voles. It’s commonly used on trees to stop birds like sparrows and starlings from nesting or roosting. Basically a non-drying glue, this product will stop voles from girdling any treated sapling or other tree or ground cover. The voles won’t be able to climb over the treated surface so be sure to keep at least 12 inches of bark protected to insure they can’t jump over the treated surface. As an added protection, use some TREE WRAP which will work as both a band aid and deterrent. Damaged bark can easily lead to tree mortality if left unattended.
A more generalized approach is to broadcast some WHOLE CONTROL over any turf where voles are thought to be tunneling. This bad tasting product will leech into the soil and keep them from both tunneling and burrowing where it’s applied. A great “one, two punch” is to first apply some VOLE REPELLENT GRANULES and then spray over the top with the Whole Control. This combination should last several weeks and moles, voles or gophers just don’t like these products and will stay away. Keep in mind this is not a permanent resolution. A good food supply will assuredly keep attracting new voles to any given area so either refresh the treatment as needed or use it along with a baiting or trapping program to keep the local population in check.