NatureWatch: Where have all the house mice gone?


Q: I’ve been meaning to write to you for many months now about the seeming disappearance of mice at our house. It began in August 2013, the usual month when we would begin to see an occasional mouse in the traps in our cellar. There were none. Since then, instead of the usual average of two to four mice per week (the higher count being in the colder months), we have only seen, perhaps five mice all season.

Believe me, I’m not complaining, as I prefer not to share my home with them. However, I am curious whether you have heard this from other people in the area (my particular area is Dalton).

Are there more predators present this year? We haven’t heard coyotes as much, although with the house tight for winter, outside sounds don’t really travel indoors. Is there a disease that is decimating the mouse population? We know they don’t go south for the winter ... no snow birds, they! So hey ... any idea what’s going on?

-- Linda, Dalton

A: As with most animals (rodents especially, it seems) there are ups and downs in populations. I begin setting a few mouse traps in late September. For the past couple years, my endeavor has yielded countless deer mice (in attic, garage, shed), and voles (garage, shed). I have yet to catch a house mouse at our Pittsfield residence, although recall our share in Dalton in years past.

This past September to now, I have not caught a single one in the garage or house, and only a couple in the shed. So, my thought is they are at a low in their population cycle. One difference this past fall and winter is we receive visits regularly from a neighborhood domestic cat that may be limiting the small rodent population. As always I welcome reader comment on this. Perhaps other readers are experiencing lower populations. Or not. Q: I’m bewildered by recent animal tracks on my property which are about 5 or 6 inches in length and about 7 or 8 inches apart -- although probably disfigured as they stay in the snow.

My puzzlement is that they are in a single line, which is perplexing because how can a four-footed animal walk in such a fashion? They are much too large for a squirrel or smaller rodent -- probably a deer, but still, how does it manage to walk that way with its four legs? What could possibly leave such a configuration?

-- Michael, Otis

A: It is often difficult to name animal tracks in loose snow, easier in heavy that tends to pack well, making good clear prints. Walking a straight line brings to mind (in addition to deer) fox, coyote and bobcat. These predators always seem to be on a mission, leaving tracks that indicate a destination, rather than all over the place as we see with dog tracks. Always keep in mind they usually walk in a straight line -- unless after prey.

The wild predators just mentioned usually put hind foot directly in print of front foot. Hence the prints you saw. A domestic cat is more direct in its line of travel also, and would have a smaller stride that the other predators I mention here. The stride of a coyote is about 18 to 22 inches or more; a bobcat’s stride is 10 to 14 inches, while that of the red fox is 12 to 15 inches. A bobcat’s print can be 2 to 21Ž2 inches long, while a coyote’s is often twice that.

The bobcat’s stride is about 10 to 14 inches. Coyote leave oval foot prints that are between 21Ž2 and 31Ž2 inches long. Fox stride is about 12-15 inches. Tracks are often referred to as "dainty oval tracks" and are between just over three to four inches. Deer and moose usually leave prints of their two-toe hooves in the snow -- and their prints are deeper. In deep snow look for fewer prints as they follow the same steps.

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