An ode to the Wood Mouse (with a tenuous seasonal link) - Eva Phillips, Comms Officer

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature did stir, not even the wood mouse… Because they were out in the woods enjoying their natural habitat! (well, nearly, they’re equally likely to be found in hedgerows, verges, gardens, parks and brambles – wherever it’s nice and dry...)

Credit: Apodemus sylvaticus bosmuis, Rasbak

The wood mouse, also known as long tailed field mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) can be distinguished from voles by their large ears and eyes and long tail, and from the house mouse by their slightly larger size and colouring, wood mice are a more yellow brown with a yellower patch between their forelegs and grey underneath.

These cute creatures are omnivores and feast on seeds, buds and insects, including caterpillars, snails and beetles. Unfortunately, when their lunch had been affected by pesticides, the mice can be poisoned too.

Mainly nocturnal, they are agile jumpers, climbers and swimmers and use this skill to forage for food at night, helped by their great eyesight. Their territory is small, around 0.2ha, though when exploring they will move unique leaves and twigs to leave as landmarks to find their way home. They usually excavate their own burrows and nest underground however they will also create nests wherever they can find comfort and warmth. During winter they exert less energy, preferring to lie in a torpor, like badgers, rather than true hibernation.

Wood Mice

Credit: Margaret Holland

These tiny things have a short lifespan of just 6-12 months but breed heavily, with a female bearing 4-7 litters of 2-9 young per year. Mice of all kinds get a rough ride, many people profess a fear or phobia of the minute mammals, possibly linked to the startle response, which seeing as they are timid creatures is more likely to be them running from, rather than towards humans! Harder to explain is their habit of sitting still and washing themselves as a reaction to being scared themselves. Funnily enough, the legend of elephants being scared of mice has been told for centuries. The earliest reference is in 1601, when Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia, book stated "of all other living creatures, they [elephants] cannot abide a mouse or a rat." Modern experiments have shown there may be some truth to this rumour, but no explanation for the behaviour has been found.

With an estimated one mouse for every two people in the UK the wood mouse is one of our most common small mammals and has been recorded across most of Birmingham and the Black Country. However if wood mouse numbers decline, other species higher up the food chain, such as owls, may suffer. The loss of woodland and hedgerow habitats could pose a threat to the species which is why we work to conserve and enhance greenspace on a landscape scale through our Nature Improvement Area, connecting habitats to create corridors where wildlife can move freely through urban and rural areas. You can help by not using poisonous pesticides and leaving wild corners in your garden.