Warm for the Winter
By Shirley Murtha
If you live in a house bordered by woods, you most likely have a mouse problem when fall arrives. The little deer mice and white-footed mice are relentless in finding ways to get into our homes to escape the cold winter temperatures. In November, I intended to clean out the bluebird nesting box in my back yard, but I was too late: a tiny creature had already constructed the extensive nest pictured here. It measures almost eight inches in depth, comprised of mostly mosses, shredded grasses and other plant material.
To build this cozy bivouac is a monumental effort, considering that the nest box is located almost six feet from the ground. Imagine the number of trips up and down the post! The mouse chose a perfect location, however, as the wild garden below it is full of seeds and dried berries, so when the need arises, it isn't a far journey to find food.
Unlike the house mouse (Mus musculus), which is a pest in our homes, the white-footed and deer mice (Peromyscus sp.) are beneficial, feeding on garden pests during the warm weather. Yes, they also have a connection to Lyme disease, but they are just so darn cute, it's hard to not like them and to be sympathetic to their plight, for their lives are quite short. They are preyed upon by many, including hawks, owls and coyotes. In captivity, these little critters can live several years, so it is clear that their high reproduction rate is their answer to being food for so many other creatures. In the wild, they have as many as four litters a year, each containing up to nine pups.
As for my little builder, I can report that it is safe and well, for its tiny footprints appeared around the base of the post after a recent snowfall.