The field vole

David Chapman / 20 April 2010

Wildlife photographer and writer, David Chapman, introduces one of our most common yet rarely glimpsed creatures.



A few years ago I introduced you to the bank vole, a small creature which lives in our hedgerows and gardens. I mentioned that voles are even smaller than mice and have very short tails and blunt noses. Well the field vole has an even shorter tail than the bank vole and, because of this, it is often known as the ‘short-tailed vole’.

Small features are the name of the game for the field vole, its ears are so small that it usually isn’t possible to see them as they remain hidden amongst the creature’s fur; this deception is assisted further by the fact that its ears are themselves covered in fur. Compared to the bank vole, which has a rich chestnut coloured back and pale belly, the field vole is fairly bland in colour being grey-brown all over.

Field voles are not likely to be as common in gardens as bank voles but if you leave an area of your lawn un-mown during the summer then there is a chance that a pair might move in. They aren’t always easy to spot in the flesh but you might be able to find evidence of where field voles have been. They create pathways at the base of the grasses which often connect to small holes leading to underground tunnels. On the surface, near the roots of the grasses, they make nests from grass, which soon dries out leaving a distinctive ball of dead stems and leaves with a space in the middle.

Field voles are drably coloured to help them to stay hidden to avoid predation and, despite the fact that they fall prey to many larger mammals and birds, they remain the commonest mammal in Britain with about 80 million of them at large. Numbers are boosted rapidly during successful breeding seasons. Field voles can breed as many as seven times per year with up to six young in each litter. 

Given that a young female field vole reaches sexual maturity at just 28 days old, I reckon that one pair at the beginning of the year could give rise to a total of 528 voles by the end of the year. That is assuming all of them breed promptly raising a good number of young and none of them die. My assumptions are, of course, flawed!

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