Backyard Wildlife: Mighty Mice

The sight of a mouse in your garden – such as the White-footed mouse above – might send you running back inside. But don’t panic—their presence usually isn’t a cause for alarm. In fact, these small mammals are an important part of the garden ecosystem. Once you learn about all the good they do, you might even decide you want them around!

Is it really a mouse?
There are many native rodent species that all get lumped together as “mice.” Some of them are indeed mice, but others are voles or rats. Native rodents offer a lot of interesting activity for your wildlife-friendly garden, whether they’re white-footed mice with their bright white undersides; kangaroo rats, which stuff their cheek-pouches with seeds; meadow voles, which busily tunnel under the snow all winter; jumping mice with their long tails; woodrats, which hoard goodies in their burrows; or carnivorous grasshopper mice on the hunt. Mice also help spread plant seeds, and their burrowing activity aerates the soil for plant roots.


Kangaroo rat

Taking one for the team
There’s another reason to attract mice and other rodents: They’re at the bottom of the food chain. If you want to see some of the more dramatic garden wildlife, such as foxes, owls, hawks, weasels and (dare I say it) snakes, you need to attract their prey. Just as a healthy insect population attracts hungry songbirds, so mice will attract these backyard predators. Mice make up a huge portion of the diets of predators, especially in winter when other food sources aren’t available.


Jumping mouse

What do mice want?
Attracting mice is pretty simple. Fill your garden with the same native plants that offer the birds berries, seeds, insects and shelter, and you’ll create a great mouse habitat. Brush, log or rock piles add additional shelter and denning places. Such a garden will support only a natural mouse population — not a population explosion — so you don’t need to worry about being overrun. This habitat will also attract the aforementioned predators, which will keep the mice in check.


Grasshopper mouse

A few mouse-sized cautions
There are just a few species that can cause trouble. Deer mice can host disease-carrying ticks and sometimes do seek shelter indoors in winter. Voles can gnaw on trees and bulbs, so protect those plants with wrapping or wire mesh. Two species you don’t want to attract are house mice and Norway rats. They aren’t true wildlife because they aren’t generally found in the wild; instead, they use human buildings as a home and our food and garbage as a source of sustenance. A balanced, wildlife-friendly garden typically won’t attract them.

How to prevent problems
Seal any access points along your home’s foundation or attic. Never leave pet food or garbage outside, and store these items in metal containers with tight-fitting lids. Take bird feeders down and feed the birds with native plants instead. Avoid poisons, which are dangerous to children, pets and wildlife, including those that feed on poisoned rodents. Avoid glue traps, which are horribly cruel. Snap traps are effective, chemical-free and humane, because they dispatch pests instantly.

David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. Follow his Animal Planet blog, social media pages and latest TV appearances at naturegeek.org.

Photos by Stan Tekiela