Are voles vying for your lawn?

This article has been updated. Please check our website for the most recent story.
Last Updated: 
December 6, 2005

CORVALLIS – If you are noticing grassy trails and "runways" in your lawn, they are probably from rodents called voles.

Members of the genus "Microtus," voles are rodents with stocky bodies, blunt noses and small round ears that are hidden by fur. They have short-looking legs and tails.

In western Oregon, the most likely voles are either the gray-tailed or Townsend's, according to Oregon State University wildlife biologist Dan Edge. Both of these western Oregon species like grassy or meadow-like habitats.

In eastern Oregon, the montane vole is the most likely lawn pest.

These voles all build runways through and under low-growing vegetation, especially in rural areas. They are difficult to spot, as they seem to always be on the run.

"Meadow voles do not walk along their runways – they dash," wrote Chris Maser in his book "Mammals of the Pacific Northwest," (OSU Press, 1998). "When startled, a vole may emit a high-pitched squeak, gnash its teeth, and either freeze or flee. If it flees, it will, however, do so only along the runway."

Active both day and night, voles are vegetarians, eating a wide array of green plants such as grass, clover, buttercups, false dandelion, and horsetail. Since some of these are lawn weeds, the voles may be helping to eradicate unwanted weeds.

But if voles are turning your lawn into a rodent freeway interchange, you may want to do something about them. Vegetation management is the key to keeping vole populations in control.

If you keep your lawn short and dethatch it yearly, voles will find less habitat on your property. Avoid using a lot of mulch, as voles use that for habitat also. Fallen fruit and food from bird feeders also encourages voles.

There are no rodenticides registered for homeowner use against voles in Oregon or Washington, Edge said.

You might want to encourage predators of voles, such as hawks, owls, coyotes, foxes, weasels and shrews. Provide perches for large birds. For small populations, you might want to try trapping with a snap-type mousetrap, suggested Edge. Peanut butter or apple works well as bait.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Dan Edge