Voles (Microtus sp.), also referred to as meadow mice, are common in eastern Nebraska. They are about three to four inches long and have brownish-black fur and are lighter colored on their undersides. They are often mistaken for house mice, but are slightly larger. Unlike mice, voles appear to have little or no necks, small ears and very short tails.
Voles prefer to be outdoors. These rodents live in yards and feed on seeds and bulbs. They frequently eat spilled seed from bird feeders. Voles are active at night all year round. Signs of their activity are most noticeable in spring, when sod is not actively growing and hiding their trails. They make runs under the snow cover in the winter while gathering seeds. As the snow melts people find a maze of trails in their lawn. They shouldn't panic! This may not cause permanent damage to the turf; the lawn will look like it always does when spring arrives and the grass starts to grow.
Voles make holes and trails in lawns and flower beds. They often nest near and in rock walls. Their holes consist of open entrances about two inches in diameter, with no soil around them. In rock walls, they may push small piles of soil outward. They may leave trails or runs on the surface of the soil between holes. This little animal damages young trees (by feeding on bark) and bulbs. When voles nest in rock walls, they can cause structural problems.
Some ways to handle vole conflicts include habitat modification - mowing grasses and other vegetation to less than 2 inches in height. Also, be aware that voles are attracted to many types of natural and synthetic mulches, and weed prevention mats. The overhead cover provides great protection for their runways and creates ideal breeding conditions. If vole problems occur frequently in mulched areas of your yard, remove mulch and expose bare soil. About the only mulches that will not support a vole tunnel system are coarse stone or large chunks of pine bark. Voles will tunnel underneath shredded pine bark.
You can exlude voles, as well. Use wire cages to protect trees and ornamental plants. Trench cages into the ground at least 2 inches, or surround them with coarse stone. If you want to offer winter protection, cages must be higher than the deepest anticipated snow depth during winter, or voles will climb over the top and girdle the trees. Plastic tree wraps are less effective because they tend to break down in UV light, and may unfurl in high winds, exposing tree bark.
Box traps, also referred to as "wind-up repeating traps," can be used to capture and remove voles. These traps are found at most large hardware stores and nursery centers. You do not need to put bait inside these traps; just put a little birdseed or grass seed near the entrance. When traps are placed in the nesting area, large numbers of voles may be captured overnight. Traditional snap traps also can be used with small seed mixed with a little peanut butter as bait. Place the snap trap perpendicular and adjacent to one of the active trails overnight.
Zinc phosphide-treated grain baits and pellets can be used. However, due their toxicity, only a certified pesticide applicator can buy and use these toxicants. Any rodenticide can be a potential hazard to birds, pets, and children if not use according to label directions.