Dear Bird Folks,
There is this little, very dark gray critter hanging around under my bird feeder. It sort of looks like a mouse but it doesn’t appear to have any legs, which I know it has but I can’t see them. What is this creature?”
– Mia, Barnstable
You do know that you are writing to the “Bird Folks,” not the “Critter Folks,” don’t you? But since the Critter Folks are on vacation and this critter is eating birdseed, I guess we can bail you out this time.
So let’s see, something dark, legless and furry under your feeder. Hey Mia, you aren’t missing one of your slippers are you? Take a close look, slippers can be tricky to identify without good binoculars. If it’s not one of your slippers, then it could be a meadow vole. Meadow voles are small mouse-size mammals that have fairly short tails and very short legs. The shorter tails, legs, ears and solid dark color helps identify a vole from other small mammals like the wicked cute white-footed mouse. Although common, voles rarely find their way into our homes, so we seldom get to see them.
Meadow voles have an endless list of enemies including hawks and owls, so they are understandably shy and secretive. But they do create pathways and tunnels through the grass and leaf litter that will give away their presence and annoy the heck out of the lawn worshippers.
Good for you Mia, you were lucky to get a good look at one of our most common but seldom seen small mammals. But from now on, please only ask me bird questions before you get me into trouble with the powerful Critter Folks Union. I don’t look good in cement.