Interior Alaska is having a big vole year! This should mean large populations of birds that prey on them right? Like owls and falcons. I’m seeing a Merlin falcon around our house every couple of days, and if this vole thought he was safe just sitting right out in the open like this one did yesterday, then the falcons will have a successful season. Maybe he was curious of me, or more probably he thought he was being sly by not moving. And for the poor eyes of humans, unlike falcons, we will often be fooled.
Nearly every woman I know wrinkles her nose when voles are mentioned. But I think they’re adorable. Not quite as cute as the typical mouse, but close. Though maybe the ladies are right to be suspect – voles have lots of parasites and can even infect humans with the protozoan Giardia. They are also notorious for eating garden plants and ruining whole crops. They might be able to turn me against them if they start finding an appetite for the precious cabbage or squash seedlings I doted on from seed, and that are now in the garden trying to adjust to rain, cold and wind. (Then again, moose eat my cabbages every fall and I still love them.)
I’m quite sure this is a northern red-backed vole. Apparently they live only about a year but multiply quickly because they start reproducing as early as 8 weeks old. Gestation length is 3 weeks, each litter can number from 2-11, and one female can have up to 6 litters in one year!
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, voles are “staple foods of weasels, marten, foxes, coyotes, all owls, most hawks, inland breeding gulls, jaegers, and occasionally great blue herons, domestic cats, northern pike, and other voles.” (!) This little guy will eat lichen, fungi, seeds, grasses, fruit, insects, and meat.
If you’re wondering how big (or little) he is, my estimation is 3 inches long. The green on the ground next to him is moss growth because of a wet spring, and we’re seeing the make up of a scant bit of organic matter on the silty ground. So he is tiny. In the photo below, you can see that his little front paw blends perfectly with the dead grass. And perhaps evolution has dictated he have a red back to blend in with the orange-ish dead leaves on the floor of the forests that he inhabits.
Thanks for reading and here’s to hoping we get some well-deserved sunny hot weather in Fairbanks really soon!