Mice in the garden

Posted: Friday 17 February 2012
by Kate Bradbury

Mice have adapted well to living cheek by jowl with humans. They might eat our peas and potatoes, or chew through bags of bird food...

Wood mouse, photo taken by Paul Adams, courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts

Just over a year ago, my garden was taken over by a young blackbird we called Sid. I had been away for Christmas, and during this time Sid had reclaimed ‘my’ garden as his own.

After my holiday this year I was aware of a similar claim over my garden – this time from a mouse. It seems that while the cat was away, the mouse living in my compost bin moved into the shed to have babies. I came back from my holiday to cold and wintery conditions, and had several glimpses of our mouse scrambling brazenly over the snow to pick up whatever I had left out for the pigeons. She either thought I was still absent, or was too starving to care about the consequences of being seen.

As soon as the snow thawed, I sneaked out to the shed to investigate. I didn’t need to open the door, I could hear the telltale sounds of babies crying for their mother from outside. I've not been in the garden since, and have left the mouse to get on with feeding her babies.

Called wood, or field mice (Apodemus sylvaticus), they do not usually come into our homes, but are often regarded as garden pests. They hamper our efforts at growing peas, sweetcorn, potatoes and spring bulbs, and will chew into bags of bird food and other grains (but in spring they also feast on snails). As their common names suggest, their natural habitats include woodland, grassland and hedgerows. At one time there would have been plenty of those habitats in London, but not now.

Gardens are often the nearest thing our wildlife has to a natural habitat. I’m reminded of War of the Worlds, in which the unnamed narrator describes his reaction to the Martian invasion as no different to those of a rabbit “returning to his burrow and suddenly confronted by the work of a dozen busy navvies digging the foundations of a house.” He goes on to describe “a sense of dethronement, a persuasion that [he] was no longer a master, but an animal among the animals”. He felt dethroned by the Martians; I felt dethroned by the blackbird, then the mouse. But the reality is that virtually everything has been dethroned - or at least displaced - by us.

Mice have adapted well to living cheek by jowl with humans. They might eat our peas and potatoes, or chew through bags of bird food, but I think it’s a fair trade off for having to live alongside us. So I’m happy the mouse has found a safe place to nest in my garden. Looking at others in the vicinity (most of which are paved over), I reckon mine provides the nicest habitat possible, for the young wood mice that will never know a wood.

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Talkback: Mice in the garden
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Milo de Paor 17/02/2012 at 15:00

Lovely blog post, thank you!

How do you tell the difference between a field mouse and a house mouse? Will field mice breed in a house? And do house mice go outside much?

Bartlebeans 17/02/2012 at 16:03

Ah, so they're wood mice are they? We have one in our garden. I see it scurrying under flower pots, usually collecting bird-dropped sunflower seeds. I don't mind them - they have beautiful, big black eyes! - but it is important to keep back doors closed. I understand they have a habit of nipping indoors - and staying. And then they're a problem.

dobby2 17/02/2012 at 17:13

I have a small mouse that lives in my garden too. Now onto several generations of mice, can't be the same one. It lived under my old brick bbq, and would even run around the garden whilst we were out there eating, along behind us, and quite happily while I was gardening. I would feed it also, so it had its only little supply of food so didn't have to compete with the birds. Managed to get a photo of it on my iphone, the mouse standing on the top brick of bbq looking into the patio doors at the cat which was looking at the mouse. Sure the mouse knew it wasn't under threat and that it was taunting the cat!

oldchippy 17/02/2012 at 22:25

Hi Kate don't know much about mice but I have a dog walking on three legs,He tried to do a summer sort in the snow last Sunday and hurt his front leg,More money down the Vets.Happy Days.


www.alittlesliceofeden.blogspot.com 18/02/2012 at 16:02

It is so nice to read a blog by someone who doesnt panic at the sight of a mouse!

My garden is full of little holes which appear and then disappear at random. Many of them will be home to mice and possibly even their larger cousins but I've not been bothered by them, and the crocuses and snowdrops seem to manage just fine.

From time to time we get intimations that other little mammals are living alongside us too: a shrew on the doorstep; bats in the evening, a hedgehog scurrying away into the undergrowth and a pile of fresh earth diggings where a mole has been building. We even saw a lovely golden ferret that had escaped captivity and come to investigate our compost heap. Each of them needs to eat something, but each of them adds a layer of richness to our enjoyment of the garden too.

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