What are those funny cracks in my yard?

By Wildlife Master, Sheri Hoffman

Do you have voles in your yard? You’ll know if you see damage in the lawn or to small trees and shrubs that is new and unusual.

VoleWhat’s a vole? Voles are small mammals, usually dark in color, about four to eight inches in length. They have blunt faces and very small eyes and ears. There are eight species of voles in Colorado and they are also known as meadow mice.

Typically, voles construct tunnels one to two inches wide that will travel out from under a bush into the yard. They use these runways or tunnels as a pathway to food—especially under the snow. Voles cause damage to seedlings and small shrubs by girdling the trunk and eating the bark.

Along the Front Range, Meadow Voles tend to live in or near damp, marshy areas, wet meadows or lawns. They eat a variety of grasses and bark, and are especially active during the fall and winter.

There are several methods used to reduce vole damage and population, including habitat management, exclusion, and repellents.

Habitat management involves close mowing and weed control in grassy borders next to open space or in a yard. Voles avoid exposed areas, so close mowing of the lawn in the fall, raking and repairing runway damage will disrupt their activities. Then, water and fertilize the runway area to keep the voles away.

Voles may also take up residence near bird feeders, an easy food supply all year round. By picking up fallen bird seed and using feeders that contain the seed well, this attractant can be eliminated.
Vole runway

Typical Vole Runways

To prevent voles from gnawing on trees and shrubs, encircle the plants with quarter-inch mesh hardwire cloth or a three-inch diameter Vexar plastic mesh cylinder. These items should be buried three to six inches below the surface and extend about 18 inches above ground. Note, however, that there are no foolproof methods to exclude voles from a lawn.

Only a few repellents are known to protect trees and shrubs from vole damage. Look for repellents that contain the ingredient thiram or capsaicin. A 20 percent solution of raw chicken eggs and water is also an effective repellent. Spread or spray this solution in their runways or where vole activity is seen. This solution will last three to five days, weather permitting.

For more information about voles, call the Broomfield Wildlife Masters Hotline at 303.464.5554.