Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Harvest mice

Until you meet a harvest mouse (Micromys minutus), you aren't prepared for its' tininess or cuteness.

The harvest mouse is Europe's smallest rodent. An adult weighs 6g - as much as a 2p piece.

But this once-common micro-mouse is in decline. Same old, same old I'm afraid: changing land use; more efficient mechanised farming; unsympathetic land management. Leading to it being listed as a biodiversity action plan priority species.

So I didn't hesitate for a micro-second when it was suggested that our new meadow may be ideal for harvest mice.

They like rough grassland, preferably with a sward uncut for three years so that they can burrow down in the grass and hide from their catalogue of predators. These include other rodents, foxes, owls, kestrels and sparrow hawks as well as pheasants and cats.

Their defence against this battery of enemies includes being able to raise four litters of babies each year. Their nest is woven from living grass and has its entrance cunningly closed making it almost impossible to detect.

They are also successful opportunist feeders enjoying seeds, grasses, fruits and insects.

And then, they are our only rodent with a prehensile tail. This leads to it being a spectacular acrobat, balancing precariously on slender grass stems and reeds.

Harvest mice leave their home
Today was our special day. A dozen of the most excuisite  little creatures arrived in their carrying case. They had been fuelled with millet and sweet corn and after a small hesitation made their way into our meadow that currently includes a jungle of grasses, seeding wild carrot, and yarrow.

It won't be easy for our little group of pioneers to establish a colony. Hopefully they will use their carrying box as a base, stuffed as it is with straw, is supplied with food and smells like home. But we know that 90% of harvest mice die during cold winters. As well as facing that battery of enemies. 

We'll provide supplementary food to give them a fighting chance.

And we hope that you'll join us in keeping everything crossed that they make it through.

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