Mice have important things to do
I’m walking across a snowy hillside meadow on a blanket of fresh powder. Ahead I see a brown speck all by itself, presumably a mouse feeding on a lonely seed head above the snow. I’d like to pet him if given the opportunity. As I start toward the mouse, I notice a pair of ravens sitting atop a snag of dead wood across the meadow. I pause and let nature run its course as one of the ravens glides over on glistening black wings, and picks up the little mouse as an evening snack for him and his mate.
How simple a scene is this? But think, the world as we know it could not be without mice. Mice are low on the food chain. Mice convert plants that are carbohydrates to protein. This protein is used by both carnivores and omnivores that are further up the food chain.What local animals and birds rely on mice as a staple food source? Certainly fox and coyote feed on mice regularly, as do hawks. Long and short-tailed weasels consume about one-third of their body weight in mice a day. At night, owls locate mice with their keen sense of hearing.Animals that are preyed upon by carnivores are generally herbivores. This is because there are abundant plants for herbivores to feed upon, and enables these animals to reproduce rapidly. Take squirrels and rabbits for instance – they are indeed an abundant food supply for carnivores.It is common to see tracks from foraging mice on top of the snow. Mouse tracks appear as a hopping gait. Mice propel themselves with their powerful hind legs, and land on their front legs.
Similar to both rabbits and squirrels, the front feet appear in the rear of the set of prints because the front feet are overstepped by the rears as the animal continues in motion. Often you will also see a thin tail drag mark centered over the track as well. It should be noted that mice spend much of their time inside the snow pack feeding on seeds, bark and vegetation. Ask yourself, “What is the most common animal in this landscape?” The answer is the mouse. Therefore it is important to maintain natural plant communities as we further develop this beautiful Vail Valley. By providing habitat for the simple mouse, we benefit other animals as well, and this diversity makes all of our lives more fulfilling.
Tom Wiesen and his wife Tanya are the owners and lead guides of Trailwise Guides, a year-round Vail Valley guide service specializing in providing quality experiences. Private snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and wildlife-watching outings are offered daily. Contact Trailwise Guides at 827-5363.Vail, Colorado