Monday, 8 January 2007

Wood mice take over garden shed

Each winter the local wood mice move into my shed, no doubt seeking more comfortable quarters than those on offer elsewhere within the garden. This pattern of behaviour is something that I have come to tolerate, accepting the small amount of damage to items within the shed. This year, however, I have been forced to take action against these squatters due to the increasing levels of damage and, the final straw, the use of my gardening gloves as a latrine! Over the past three nights I have deployed Longworth live traps in order to catch and remove (to a distant part of Thetford Forest) the mice. So far, seven mice have been caught and I expect to capture more over the coming nights. Such numbers highlight the successes the mice have enjoyed through what has proved to be a mild winter and one with abundant food, in the shape of berries and seeds.

Although territorial during the breeding season, wood mice are loosely social during the winter months, with individuals often nesting communally within their subterranean tunnel systems. This is one of the reasons why numbers can build up in outbuildings at this time of the year. Many observers assume that any mice found within our houses and sheds will be house mice but this is usually not the case. Despite their name, wood mice are fairly ubiquitous across the countryside, exploiting the opportunities available within a wide range of different habitats.  Both the wood mouse and its close relative the yellow-necked mouse are larger than a house mouse, with large dark eyes, big ears and a noticeably long tail. Their warm brown coats have a chestnut/yellow hue and, collectively, these features distinguish them from their smaller cousins. The yellow-necked mouse is more restricted in its choice of habitats and has a more southerly distribution, seemingly only just reaching the southern edge of Norfolk. This means that any mouse with big eyes and ears, long tail and brown coat, seen within the county, will almost certainly be a wood mouse. This is fortunate, since the yellow-necked mouse is very similar in appearance. As its name implies, the yellow-necked mouse has a pale yellow neck patch that extends to form a collar, reaching the brown of the upper neck on each side of the throat. In the wood mouse this feature is usually absent or, if present, it fails to reach the brown of the neck. There is one other fact that you should know about these mice: they have very good homing ability and can easily return to your property if trapped and then relocated to a site less than a mile away. Mine have been relocated to a distant part of the forest!

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