Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Great Gray Owl Ruined My Life

What a thrill it was to have the great gray owls around last winter. The largest irruption on record--they were everywhere. (See Great Gray Fever and Great Gray Tragedy)

Photo by Bill Newman

They came south in huge numbers because of a shortage of voles in their usual stomping grounds. They came south to eat our voles.

**Warning: unscientific, anecdotal speculation ahead.**

It has been my observation since coming to Thomasburg that some years there are lots of voles, other years lots of deer mice. Voles are bigger than deer mice--more bite-sized for something as big as a great gray. So, I wonder, do voles displace deer mice? Yes, I answer (heed warning above).

How has the great gray ruined my life? It started back in August (the occasion of the post Outside In), when a deer mouse ran across my bed as the cat and I sat on it watching television very early one morning. The deer mouse, unlike other native species of rodents (unlike voles), has a predilection for living in human-made structures. The mouse back in August was a sign of things to come. Now the house is full of mice--I hear them scurrying in the walls (I can hear one now), I hear them chewing up our stuff, last night I even heard them fighting. The cat caught one in a cupboard a week or so ago. I took it from her and evicted it (she wasn't quick to kill, and I didn't want her to lose it again in the house): it was back that night. I've cleaned out drawers, patched holes in the back of cupboards, put out poison (I'm sorry to say), and still I dread bedtime when the cat and I will once again be unable to sleep for the racket. (I think the cat might be enjoying the situation.)

So I blame the owl, for taking the voles, for creating the surge in the mouse population, driving intolerable numbers into the house. I blame the owl, but I could forgive if only the owl would return, and learn to love deer mice.

Submitted to the Modulator's Friday Ark


Anonymous said...

I'm comfortable with your conclusions. At least it is based on observable facts.

robin andrea said...

That's an interesting observation. I was glad to read that it's the deer mice that come in the house and not voles. We have a yard full of voles and vole holes. Maybe they will attract the owls. Now that would make me very happy, and the owls would get a tummy-full. That owl is gorgeous.

Pamela Martin said...

Thanks Pablo--but I do worry that there are two things I don't know. First, whether there is any relationship between the population levels of deer mice and voles. But second, and just as important for my hypothesis, whether great gray owls who have come south prey preferentially on voles, or take whatever small rodents are available.

Rexroth's daughter, thanks for the comment. Yes, they are beautiful owls--it was great to have them here. A yard full of voles should attract all kinds of interesting visitors.

Dave Dorsey said...

Nice picture. We have 2 Great gray's in our education program. Both came to us three years ago due to injuries from car hits. Their diet is medium mice. Voles are not available for purchase, at least not to my knowledge. These two are unable to hunt any more, so we provide for them. But then also maybe they settled for the mice.

Now there seems to be an irruption of snowy owl's.

Pamela Martin said...

Sadly, many great grays were hit by cars here last year.

About the snowy owls, I've never seen one but I keep hearing about snowy sightings to the east and west of me. Maybe this year.

Anonymous said...

we should all have that 'problem' with Gray Owls ;)
I'm a bit concerned about your statement about using mouse poison though.
From Cornell:


Quick Facts:

· Trade names: Talon, Havoc, D-Con mice and rat traps

· Pesticide type: rodenticide

· Brodifacoum accounts for 30% of all rodenticide active ingredients.

· Brodifacoum is extremely dangerous to birds through secondary exposure, especially raptors feeding on poisoned rats and mice. Hundreds of avian and other wildlife mortalities have been reported across North America.

you can find the info. here:

I'd stick to plain old mouse traps, at least that would eliminate the possibility of secondary exposure.

Pamela Martin said...

Cindy, thanks for the link. Secondary exposure is something that has been a nagging worry for me, but I'd never come across this information before. I went on from the page you gave me to the profile at ABC Birds, which gave more information about brodifacoum. This was both alarming and slightly reassuring.

Problems arise most often from use of poisons outside, and partially outside (i.e., barns, sheds, other places) where animals are moving through, picking up the poison as they go. I've never put "mouse treat" anywhere but in the basement, and the targets are mostly animals who have already decided to make their winter home in my home. So the risk of secondary exposures from this kind of use is low. Still, I don't need much encouragement to go another way. I think the current invasion is just about over. I'll do some research on how to handle the next one differently. Handling poison creeps me out anyway.