Monday, July 15, 2013

Adirondack Wildlife: Mice and More Mice

deer mouseThe growing season two years ago was considered to have been excellent. There were numerous periods of mild weather in the spring along with a lack of a late hard frost which allowed for an abundance of flowers to successfully begin their initial stage of developing our crops of seeds and berries. Summer that year provided ample sunshine and an adequate supply of rain to bring to maturity the numerous wild fruits and mast that can grow in this region.

Whenever an abundance of nutritious edibles develops in nature, there is an explosion in the population of mice, voles, chipmunks and other small creatures that utilize such items as their principle source of food. By the end of autumn, it became evident that the number of small herbivores, especially mice, was near or at an all time high for many areas throughout the Adirondacks.

Despite the recent prolonged periods of overcast and record rainfall from the onset of the growing season, initial indications are that this summer has the potential for an equal or even greater crop of wild edibles compared to two years ago. The cold, rainy weather that made outdoor conditions miserable over the Memorial Day weekend and brought a significant snowfall to the higher elevations failed to destroy the buds of soon-to-open flowers and blossoms that had already exposed their delicate seed forming structures. Even the frosts and freezes that occurred in early June were not severe enough to damage these reproductive organs which have allowed seed and berry formation to continue.

Among the first crops to mature in my neighborhood are the wild strawberries which are usually too small and hard for me to harvest. However, for mice and other ground dwelling creatures, these sweet fruits provide a welcome treat from the more bland seeds that have been consumed all winter and spring. This is the first year in many that these savory, bright red masses have been plentiful enough for me to stop, get down on my knees and spend a few minutes picking small handfuls of them.

I have also noticed a bounty of developing raspberries, wild apples, cherries, maple keys and even beechnuts on the twigs, canes, and stems of plants in the immediate area. If summer progresses without any major weather incident, such as a severe hail storm, a prolonged period of intense heat without any rain, or a hard, mid-summer freeze, there should be plenty of berries, wild apples, seeds of all types and even a rare banner crop of beechnuts in the coming months.

This is great news for those that enjoy collecting such wild edibles for making pies, jams, wines and other natural treats. It is a concern for those that are uneasy sharing their home with a collection of mice from mid autumn through the end of winter. With an ample supply of food, it doesn’t take more than a few months for an already elevated population of mice to mushroom to record levels.

The numbers of weasels, fox, owls, coyotes, fisher and marten, and other predators that prey on small rodents have increased over the past year in response to the elevated populations of these meaty herbivores since the summer of 2011. However, even with more natural enemies roaming the region, an increase in food availability results in higher numbers of small mammals well into the autumn.

Now is the time to repair cracks in the foundation, patch any holes that have developed on the house siding, chalk around windows and doors, and carefully check the exterior of your home for any possible opening that would allow mice access inside. It doesn’t take much of a gap for a mouse to squeeze its body through to the relative safety of an indoor retreat. Because of the exceptional climbing skill of this rodent, a mouse can take advantage of a small hole well above the ground, like under the eaves, around a chimney, or where a clothes dryer vents to the outside.

Mice are also skilled at climbing up the wheels of a car and gaining entrance to the interior of an auto that is parked for the night. Once in a car, a mouse can wreak havoc by gnawing on the insulation around wires, chewing holes into the upholstery to get mouthfuls of fluffy stuffing for its nest, and plugging up vents. Keeping mice out of a car or truck can be even more of a challenge than trying to block their access into a house, as paths of entrance into a motor vehicle are not as easy to find as for a house.
This year has the potential to be one of best berry and seed years in recent memory. Such a bounty of wild fruits comes at a cost, as problems with mice are sure to follow.

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Tom Kalinowski is an avid outdoor enthusiast who taught field biology and ecology at Saranac Lake High School for 33 years. He has written numerous articles on natural history for Adirondack Life, The Conservationist, and Adirondack Explorer magazines and a weekly nature column for the Lake Placid News. In addition, Tom’s books, An Adirondack Almanac, and his most recent work entitled Adirondack Nature Notes, focuses on various events that occur among the region’s flora and fauna during very specific times of the calendar year. He also spends time photographing wildlife. Tom’s pictures have appeared in various publications across the New York State.

2 Responses

  1. Ann Parrish says:

    A timely warning, which I appreciate; and some good hints for preparing for a rodent onslaught this fall. The suggestion of “chalking” the doors, etc., is new and interesting to me. Is it the smoothness of the chalk markings that puts off the rodents? the smell? Or (this just occurs to me) am I obsessing over an overlooked automatic proofreading blunder? Did you write “chock” and did the computer sneakily change it to “chalk”?

    • Tom Kalinowski says:

      Hi Ann: Thank you for catching the typographical error. It should be caulk, and not chalk. Several years ago we had mice getting into our garage through a gap between the frame of a back door and the floor. I am frequently surprised at how small an opening needs to be to have a mouse squeeze its body through. Thanks you for reading the Almanack and for your proof reading skills.

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