Sunday, May 27, 2012

Vole Nest

As I was walking to the barn, I heard the loud squeak of a shrew from a nearby area of tall grass.  It’s not unusual to hear shrews in the grass, but you normally hear two instead of just a loner.  I peered down into the grass to see if I could get a look at the shrew.  Instead, I caught a glimpse of a Meadow Vole zipping through the grass with a vole baby in her mouth.  Then I found the rounded mound of grass that was her nest.

Inside the nest were five babies.  I can’t prove it, but I believe the shrew found the nest and made off with one of the babies.  The squeak was probably the shrew’s reaction to a confrontation with Mama vole.  The female vole’s response to a nest violation by a predator is to relocate the young to another nest.  A normal litter contains six or seven young, so this nest probably began with seven.  That’s one for the shrew, one carried off by the mother and five waiting their turn to relocate.

This little guy will one day be a grass eater, but now it’s still dependent upon its mother’s milk.  That’ll change rapidly.  Meadow Voles are weaned when 12 days old.  Females begin breeding at the age of 25 days.  The mother vole mates immediately after giving birth, so her next litter is developing while she’s nursing the current brood.  A gestation period of 21 days means that she can give birth about every three weeks. 

These young voles are destined to die in the teeth, claws, beak or belly of some predator.  Voles are just active little packets of food.  They are the primary food of a multitude of mammals, birds, reptiles and even fish.  Meadow Vole breeding goes on year-round, so it’s fortunate that so many creatures find this animal appetizing.

I covered the nest and went on my way.  When I checked back a few hours later, the nest was empty. Litter relocation is a fairly rapid business, so I assume that these little guys are now off in a new nest. 


  1. The breadth of your knowledge amazes me. Do you walk around with most of this in your head or do you do a bit of research before writing these posts?

  2. Fascinating post and excellent photos. I have never seen a vole's nest.

  3. Very interesting post. Your images are excellent, too. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi Troy. Most of what I post is what I can remember about the topic. It’s what I would probably tell people if they were along when I found the subject. I usually check the spelling of scientific names and occasionally look back in my records to confirm dates or amounts.

    One of the points I’m trying to make with the blog is the fact that you can go out at any time of the year and find something of interest. To demonstrate this, I post every day and don’t use any photos that are more than seven days old, which means that I don’t have much time to research topics that I’m not familiar with. I do discover plenty of things I don’t know about, but by the time I’ve learned enough to comfortably discuss the subject, the seven day time limit has passed.

    I take enough photos in a typical week to easily support a couple dozen posts. From those I pull out what most interests me at the time. If the photos don’t trigger enough thoughts for a post, I try a different batch of photos. In the case of the voles, I once spent a couple of summers collecting vole and mouse nests that were then kept in observation pens while I studied nestling behavior. There’s still a lot of that information lodged in my brain.

    Of course, I choose topics that I know about. I once led a small group on a three hour hike and had a woman ask me at the end how I could know everything there was to know about that property. I told her that I didn’t know everything, I just knew what I talked about. I pointed out that I had pretty much led the group’s attention the whole time. I suggested where they look and what they should see. For the entire hike I chattered on about one thing or the other and kept them involved enough to stay focused on the topic I suggested. They could have stumped me a thousand times if they had just started pointing and asking about a different subject.

    I also don’t try to make any of my posts a complete life history document. Since background information on many topics is so readily available elsewhere, I generally limit information to my own thoughts and observations. My hope is that people become motivated to explore the area outside their homes and make personal observations of their own.

    Thanks Pat. I bet there’s a vole’s nest as close to you as the nearest unmowed field.

    Thanks Lois.