Most small UK mammals do not hibernate. Instead, they reduce their activity to conserve energy in winter, but will feed intermittently during mild weather.
Although small mammals are normally wild and secretive, gardens offer winter assistance in the form of spilled bird seeds, dry sheds, outbuildings and compost bins, so they’ll venture nearer to humans from their more normal woodland edge and hedgerow haunts.
Discover some of the marvellous small mammals you could see, with the help of our detailed small mammal identifier.
Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)
The wood mouse has an orange-brown body, with pale-grey underside, that grows to 8-10cm. Its tail adds 12cm. Lives in wood edges and hedges. A good climber. Mostly nocturnal, it eats seeds, shoots, buds, berries, insects and snails.
Harvest mouse (Micromys minutus)
Orange-to-red-brown body with pale underside is 5.5-6.5cm. Prehensile tail 5-7cm. The harvest mouse nests in a rough ball of woven grass stalks above ground. Found in grasslands and eats seeds, grain, grass shorts and insects.
Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius)
Stocky, tawny body 6-9cm; fluffy tail 7-7.5cm. Found in woodlands and hedgerows. Hibernates in a subterranean, loose grass ball nest, sometimes in bird boxes. Will continue to sleep if uncovered, so needs to be put back carefully. Snores.
Common shrew (Sorex araneus)
The 5-8.5cm body is tricoloured: its head (with long, whiskered snout) and back are dark brown, the sides of its body are pale brown and its underbody is greyish. Tail 2.5-4.5cm. Eats insects, spiders and snails. Fights for territory with other shrews.
Bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus)
The bank vole’s chestnut-brown body, with paler yellowish-grey underside, reaches 8-11cm. Its hairy tail is 3.5-7cm. Has a short, round face with blunt snout and small ears. Active in daytime, it eats grass, roots, seeds, worms and insects.
Field vole (Microtus agrestis)
Yellowish-brown body of 9.513.5cm. Pinkish tail 2.5-4.5cm. Has a short, round face, with ears almost hidden by fur. Nocturnal in summer, but day-feeder in winter. Eats mostly seeds and leaves.
Mole (Talpa europaea)
The mole has a cylindrical body of up to 14cm, with a stubby 3cm tail. Covered in short, dense fur – black to taupe – its squat limbs end at pinkish, spade-like paws. Digs subterranean burrows, throwing up soil hills. Eats worms, insect grubs and other small mammals.
Weasel (Mustela nivalis)
Smaller than the stoat, the weasel’s slim, slinky body reaches 21cm and its tail an extra 5cm. It has short legs, red-brown fur and a white belly. It is a ferocious predator (for its size) of mice, voles, rabbits and birds.
Stoat (Mustela erminea)
The stoat’s slim, body reaches 35cm. It has ruddy-brown fur and a white belly. The tail, 12cm, is bushy with a black tip. In winter it moults to all-white (except tail tip). Eats small mammals, birds, eggs and carrion.
Many thanks to Chris Shields, for providing the beautiful illustrations used in this feature.