How to Get Rid of Voles
Voles are small mammals that are active both above and underneath the ground. Although mature voles only reach five to seven inches long, they can still upend a yard by feeding on vegetation and kicking up dirt, roots and grass.
Like moles, shrews and mice, voles pose their own unique pest issues. But moles mostly stay underground, and shrews and mice don’t create nearly the same amount of tunneling, burrows or runways. Voles can also be difficult to identify because of how closely they resemble mice. They are even known as meadow mice or field mice. But if they are creating a problem on your property, it is important to distinguish voles from real mice.
In addition to their small facial features, short tails and small snouts, voles have some additional identifying characteristics to keep in mind. A vole’s body is stocky, rounded, and shaped similar to a potato. Its short hair is usually colored brown to black, with a darker belly. Like other rodents, voles have small feet and short claws. They also have small, but sharp, teeth that enable them to gnaw on vegetation and bark.
Common Species of Voles
How To Identify:
- Average adult length is 6.5”
- Both males and females have multi-colored hair that can include grey, brown and orange hues.
- Mainly found in upper North America throughout the top half of the United States and throughout Canada and as far south as Georgia
- Love to settle in grassy, open areas, which provides nesting material and cover for their burrows
- Active both day and night year-round like most vole species, though may be more active in the day during winter and at night during summer.
- Mate from March to November, during which time females have been known to become more aggressive, although not notably toward humans
How To Identify:
- Adults reach up to 7”
- Hair ranges from dark brown to black with yellow-tinged or black tips, depending on the dominant hair color
- Found throughout the mid-U.S. up to Canada, and won’t usually be found south of northern New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee
- Choose habitats in prairies, pastures and weedy areas.
- Prefer living among shorter, drier grasses
- Active daily and year-round like most other vole species, but vary their amount of activity in winter and summer
How To Identify:
- Adults can reach up to 10”, including their tail
- Tail encompasses almost 30% of their length and can make them difficult to distinguish from mice
- Dark hair, usually ranging from gray to black
- Found throughout the western U.S. and Canada
- Less particular with their habitat than their cousin species and have been found in grassy areas, meadows, forests, and banks against bodies of water
- Active year-round, but are mainly nocturnal
- Not known to construct underground tunnels, unlike other voles, therefore less of a property damage issue
Differences Between Voles and Mice
- Mice have very large eyes and ears, while voles’ eyes and ears are small in comparison.
- Mice have a long tail that extends nearly twice as long as its body, but voles’ tails are much shorter.
- Mice have a somewhat pointed snout (though not nearly as pointed as shrews), whereas voles have the most rounded snout of the bunch.
- Vole mating season can last from spring all the way through fall, but it usually ranges from late spring and ends in early fall.
- Female gestation is between 16-24 days.
- Vole litters are usually between three and eight pups.
- Female pups are sexually mature as young as 13 days.
- Both male and female voles will stay with their mother and father for only a short period of time.
- Voles only live for about a year.
Can Voles Transmit Diseases to People?
Voles have been known to carry a variety of diseases like rabies, Hantavirus, and Korean hemorrhagic fever. This makes it especially important to keep a safe distance from them in your yard. Even their feces and urine can carry viruses, so be sure to wear closed-toe shoes and gloves if you’re working near their runways.
- Vole runways and tunnels are more prevalent and noticeable in the spring right after winter snow has melted.
- The vegetation surrounding a vole runway will be clipped back and kept out of the way.
- A burrow hole created by a vole will never be greater than three inches.
Inspecting for voles can be difficult because their appearance – as well as much of the damage they cause – is similar to that of other animals.
Educating yourself about voles and remaining patient during the inspection process will help you determine the exact species you’re dealing with. Once you have all the information you need, you can develop a targeted strategy toward preventing further damage and removing them from your yard altogether.
Signs of Damage
- Small tunnel entrances, runways and burrows in your yard, ranging from 1-2” wide
- Vole droppings and vegetation debris within surface runways
- Small gnaw marks on bark and plants
- Sickly trees
Gather the Tools You’ll Need
For walking your property
a good flashlight
For finding small entry points
a pair of gloves
For searching through brush
Step 1: Survey Your Property
Walk carefully around the entire length of your property, paying special attention to the ground. Even in daylight, you may want to use a flashlight to shine on the ground so you don’t trip over any runways. If you do see ground damage, you can identify that it’s a vole rather than a mole if there are surface runways or small tunnel entrances. On the other hand, moles will stay solely underground and create large mounds that run the length of the tunnels. Another indicator of voles will be the debris and droppings they leave along their runways or entrances to their tunnels.
Step 2: Inspect Your Vegetation
Next, turn your attention towards your trees and vegetation. In addition to the runways and tunnels, voles will also gnaw on tree bark and eat seeds, fruit, flowers and leaves. This could also be damage caused by animals like shrews and rabbits, but vole gnaw marks are random and occur at various angles. Rabbits will cause uniform, larger marks and can even clip off entire branches.
Step 3: Monitor for Critters
If it still isn’t clear from your yard damage that you have voles, try to spot one and identify it by its physical characteristics. Voles are very similar to mice, but the main difference is their shorter snouts and tails. If they’ve already created a runway system, they are more likely to come out and forage near dawn and twilight.
Step 4: Create a Long-Term Strategy
Once you know you have voles, you can create a long-term strategy to eradicate them using any combination of physical barriers, repellent, poisons, bait and traps. But don’t skip the previous steps – you don’t want to waste money on products unsuitable for vole control. Understanding what you’re dealing with can also help you decide whether you need a wildlife expert who can implement an integrated pest management system.
Whether or not you’re already dealing with a vole infestation, prevention methods are crucial to use in both instances.
These methods will not only help turn voles away, but they’ll keep them out, prevent them from returning, and protect your property from other pests and wildlife as well.
Although voles can dig through standard privacy fences, you can use specific types to protect your property perimeter and individual plants. Putting a vole-proof fence around your entire property can be very laborious and unsightly, since it needs to be made out of some type of screen, mesh or hardware cloth. The fence will also need to be at least a foot deep so that voles can’t easily dig underneath and pop out on the other side. However, this can be a great investment since it will also keep out other burrowing animals like moles. If you’d rather use smaller fences around your vegetation, you can take the same materials to wrap a small perimeter around what you’d like to protect. As with the property fence, these smaller fences should be at least a foot deep. They must be at least 18” high so that they aren’t easily climbable for voles.
By mixing gravel into some of the dirt in your lawn, voles will likely turn around and head toward softer soil that is more conducive to digging.
Even though you’re more likely to see other rodents like mice and rats inside your home, voles are the same size and just as likely to make their way there. Any type of rodent in close quarters with you can cause a variety of hazards, including health problems and danger for your pets or children. This is why preventing an indoor intrusion is an important step that shouldn’t be neglected.
Seal Cracks and Holes
It’s common to have small cracks or holes around the siding, foundation or roof of your house. But if these aren’t taken care of, they can easily grow larger from weather or a variety of wildlife scratching against them. Once they’ve grown large enough for a vole (which could be as small as an inch wide), these pesky creatures will make their way inside in search for more food. Monitor for these cracks and holes regularly and seal them with expandable foam, caulk, wood or concrete mix.
Invest in Entrance Covers
Voles and other pests can enter your home through the opening of your chimney, the open areas of your crawl space, and any vents along the side of your house. You can buy screen or covers specifically made for these entrances that fit over the tops and keep out pests while maintaining the original purpose of the opening (i.e. for ventilation or temperature control).
Ultrasonic and Vibration Devices
These devices usually operate by motion detection, only coming on when a vole scurries by. They emit a high-frequency noise audible only to rodents, while the vibration devices stick into the ground and cause a disturbance that the voles can feel as they’re running. Both devices will scare the voles away, but you may need to purchase more than one depending on the extent of the runways.
Lights and Sprinklers
Motion-sensor lights will also serve a similar purpose by startling the voles as they’re running around your yard. With sprinklers, they can also help take care of voles at their source by drowning out any nests full of babies.
While mice infest homes, voles can create pest control issues of their own outdoors. These small nuisances dig out shallow runways on the surface of the ground which they use to get around.
This can damage your plants when voles tear through their roots, and the runways will leave unsightly grooves all along your yard. Voles eat aboveground and munch on vegetation, nuts and seeds – often leaving gardens bare and creating scratch marks along trees and branches.
If you’d like to remediate damage done by voles in your yard and prevent others from returning, there several easy treatment and prevention methods you can use yourself or call upon a pest control expert to do for you.
You’ll know you have voles in your yard if you can see visible runways on the surface of your ground along with damaged vegetation and small gnaw marks. Compared with other ground-dwelling mammals that cause damage, voles’ runways will never be larger than 3” and won’t create any tunneling. Voles do burrow, however, so you may also see small holes where they’ve created entryways to their nests.
Like mice, voles are also small with hairy tails and similar coloring that usually ranges from brown to grey or black. Voles, on the other hand, have smaller eyes, ears and tails. Successfully identifying voles and the evidence of their damage will lead to a better-targeted treatment plan.
Your first step in treating a vole infestation is remediating the problem at hand. If you focus on removing the voles first, others could still be attracted to your yard and start the cycle all over again. This is why it’s important to focus on cleaning up your yard before moving into strategies for eradication.
Voles love to eat where they have lots of ground cover to protect them from predators. Be sure to trim back bushes and trees in your yard and regularly rake up leaves, branches and brush. For the same reason, voles love when there’s a nice pile of mulch leading up to a tree or plant. If you mulch in your yard, take care to leave a good amount of room between the mulch and any of your plants or trees.
Promote a Dry Yard
Voles can easily dig through soft soil. While regularly watering your yard is important to promote vegetation growth, a few simple measures can ensure that it won’t get more moisture than it needs:
- Trimming back trees prevents voles from hiding underneath them and helps the sun reach your lawn in order to dry it out after it rains.
- Removing debris and keeping grass short ensures that different areas of your yard are draining properly.
- Fill in dips within your yard and use a ground roller to keep the grass level and compact
While some traps on the market are designed specifically for voles, you could also easily use mousetraps since voles are the same size. These usually come in the form of spring traps, which snap onto the vole once they’re triggered, or glue traps that cause the vole to get stuck to the trap until they either die or are removed. You can also buy live traps that work by using one-way or spring-loaded doors.
How to Use a Trap for Voles or Mice
Read the Instructions
Carefully read all of the instructions for the device you’ve decided to use. Especially when it comes to spring-loaded traps, these can be dangerous if you accidentally snap it onto your fingers. Each trap should come with detailed instructions and tips for use.
Place the Trap
Place the trap strategically where it will receive a lot of traffic. Since vole runways are open-faced, you can peer inside them to see which areas look well-used. These areas will likely be slightly deeper or wider, and there will be more vole droppings.
Next, place some bait inside of the trap. Voles are herbivores that enjoy a variety of different plants, seeds and nuts, so you could try pieces of fruit covered in peanut butter or even a piece of the vegetation they’ve been feeding on.
While the trap is set and you’re waiting for it to be used, keep your children and pets away from the area. Especially if you have outdoor pets, they’re likely to be similarly attracted to the vole bait you’ve laid.
Check the Trap
Check the trap every day for a vole, regardless of whether you have a kill trap or not. If the trap is meant to kill the voles, you’ll want to remove the carcass as soon as possible before it draws other animals. On the other hand, you’ll want to release a vole from a live trap as soon as possible before it dehydrates and dies. Regardless of whether you’re handling a live or dead vole, always use gloves to prevent disease transmission.
There may be specific state laws regulating vole trapping and where you can release them, so it’s always a good idea to check first. By rule of thumb, you should release the voles at least five miles from residential property.
Known to effectively reduce vole populations, poisons can nonetheless require more work than many people realize. It’s very important to prevent children and pets from tampering with the substance. You’ll also need to use it in an area where it won’t affect your plants, even if it rains and the poison is washed away. Similar to trapping voles, you can use vole poison or those designed for either rats or mice.
Read the instructions thoroughly before using any type of wildlife poison. Some may take up to a week to affect a vole, even after it has been ingested. This makes it important to actively monitor the poison as well as the vole runways and surrounding areas for any dead voles. Never leave a vole carcass in your yard, or it can attract other animals and cause even worse problems.
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Poisons are more effective in winter and fall when their usual food sources aren’t as abundant and they’ll be more likely to take the bait. Always wear gloves when removing dead voles in order to prevent disease transmission.
Store-bought repellents either come in granule or spray form and usually contain castor oil with a mixture of other ingredients that repel voles with their odor and taste. Apply repellents directly inside vole runways, near burrow entrances, and around vegetation from which you wish to keep the voles away. The product instructions will let you know how often you should be using them and how long.
Use repellents either as a preventative method before you have spotted any voles or in conjunction with other treatment methods to prevent voles from coming back. By themselves, they aren’t likely to be as effective.
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Castor oil is used in almost every store-bought product to repel voles since they avoid this scent. It may be cheaper to buy your own bottle of castor oil to mix into a spray solution rather than buying a prepared spray from a store. Mix one part castor oil and one part dish soap with a gallon of water. Add this solution to a spray bottle and use it around any areas where voles are present.
Similar to castor oil, garlic can help keep away voles with its pungent smell. You can either mix several minced garlic cloves into water to create a spray solution, or drop crushed cloves near your vegetation and vole runways.
Instead of simply pouring ammonia around runways, a more effective method is to use a container with a lid and a rag. First, cut a medium-sized hole into the container’s lid. Wearing gloves, pour some ammonia into the container. Soak the rag in the ammonia and then stick it up through the hole in the lid. This way, the ammonia will continue to disperse throughout the air rather than being washed away by rain.
Cats and dogs can serve as natural vole repellents because of their inherent predatory nature. A cat may also bring the voles directly to you, which can actually help you see how many they’ve taken care of, and you’ll notice as the population begins to thin out.
A wildlife removal expert takes the guesswork out of finding a successful treatment method. This could prove more cost-effective in the long run than purchasing numerous products on your own in the hopes that they’ll work.
A professional will usually begin vole removal by starting at the source. They’ll eradicate burrows as well as address reasons why voles are attracted to your yard in the first place. As a bonus, many wildlife companies offer guarantees in which they’ll either refund your money or continue returning until they’re sure the problem has been resolved.
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