Is it a vole…or is it a rat?

Our last morning on the island, Jeanine was unloading the dishwasher, Martha was organizing the recycling, and I was folding dried bedding. We were cleaning up our traces of a week’s habitation in Ron’s house. The sky was leaking fat dollops of rain, the first rain we had seen in several weeks. Our stay on the island had been full of sunshine and miraculous sunsets. The day’s rain made it easy to leave such idyllic a setting, to return to our suburbian lives rife with traffic and the roar of lawnmowers.

I was mentally reviewing a magical sighting of ravens winging overhead and calling to each other with their stones-dropping-into-water knocking sounds, when Martha’s urgent call beckoned.

“Quick, you guys, get over here, RIGHT NOW!!”. She had her nose plastered against the sliding glass door of the dining room and was gazing fixedly toward the outdoor bird feeding station. Jeanine and I converged and pressed our noses to the glass as well, eager to see some exotic new bird. Some rosy headed finches were chasing each oher around the feeder. A rufous-sided towhee muscled its way to the preferred area of the platform and put the finches to flight into the surrounding hedge.

“It’s the same old birds,” complained Jeanine brandishing a fistful of mixed cutlery. “Nothing new here. I’m going back to my labours.”

“Stay a moment and watch,” suggested Martha, “Just keep looking at the bottom of the feeder post.” We stayed put and watched, waited.

Soon a low rodent slinked out of the shadows at the bottom of the hedge, made a run to the base of the feeder, curled its body into a ball and proceeded to chow down on fallen seeds. It had cute round ears and button black eyes, a rounded head and fawn-coloured fur. I opened the sliding door, whereupon the beastie scurried back into the safety of the hedge. It flashed a longish tail.

“Eeuw!!” exclaimed Jeanine. “It’s a rat!!!” She slammed shut the sliding door. We stood on the inside, gazing out to get more sightings of this rat.

The animal made several forays into the grass around the bird-feeder’s base. It sat there munching away, undisturbed by the birds above, and by us shut safely behind glass doors. At every opportunity I studied its movements and conformation. While it shared rodent characteristics with rats, it looked distinctively different, shorter and rounder in body and with a compressed face that reminded me of a gerbil’s. Its eyes were bigger and more button-like, not beady like a rat’s.

“That might be a vole,” I conjectured. “There are voles living out in the wilds here. While it kind of looks like a rat it is too rotund, and its belly is a lighter colour.”

“Pshaw,” said Martha. “You are half blind, G. You can’t mean to tell me you can actually see it has a lighter underside. It’s got to be a rat!”

“Well, I can see flashes of beige.” I asserted. “Go look it up on Ron’s computer.” Yep, we were on an island, but the internet has extended its hooks even here, even if it was only by dial-up.

“We don’t have time to check,” said Martha, peevish. “We have to get our garbage down to the transfer station. I still say it’s a rat.”

“Yuk!” uttered Jeanine. “Just think, here we have been lolling around in the mornings and evenings with all the sliding doors open, and these rats may have taken up residence inside the house. What will Ron think when he comes home and finds his house infested with rats?”

“Well,” said Martha in her reasoning manner, ” he may rethink feeding birds outside. I had to stop doing that at home when I saw rats that were getting fat on fallen seed from my bird-feeder.”

“No kidding, you guys.” I repeated. “There are such things a voles. It’s probably just a vole who has discovered an easy source of food.” I opened the sliding door and returned to my chore of folding sheets and towels.

Here I’m back home and after greeting Rumpole and having a coffee with him, after playing with Jessica and giving her a dog cookie, after picking up the General and ruffling his fur, I repaired to Google the flora and fauna of the island we had been staying on. Sure enough, there are both voles and rats on that island. But after looking the photographs I am only halfway convinced that what we saw there was a vole. How can I be sure, me with my poor vision?

But, whatever it was, it was doing a fair job of fattening itself for the winter ahead, and also had secured itself a source of ready food for the leaner months. This is all to the good, providing it was a vole and not a rat. Ron may not be happy to have a whole population or brown rats he is feeding in perpetuity. And heaven help him if they take up domicile in his garage or basement. He will be inundated.

Surely he must be aware of that possibility. Maybe its us squeamish suburban matrons who need to take  deep breath and relax about the whole thing. Maybe I need to convince myself that it was just an innocent vole who we had sighted. Who knows?

11 Responses to “Is it a vole…or is it a rat?”

  1. Cori Says:

    Vole or not it’s still a rodent, yuk! Since I stopped feeding the birds, I’ve not see our little chippy around these days I think he took up residence in our garage last winter and ate the air filter inside my car. I miss the birds though. I had a Red Cardinal in the backyard yesterday, I love the peep, peep, peep of their call.

  2. Nita Says:

    nicely written G! whenever i read your posts, I feel I have picked up a novel and am reading something of a high quality.

  3. lookingforbeauty Says:

    A good read, G.
    Rat versus vole? What difference does it make. You wouldn’t want either one taking up residence in the house; nor too close to the house. Just because one is cuter and doesn’t have such beady eyes, doesn’t mean it doesn’t do rodent like things – eating through electrical cord; nesting and reproducing in the attic, munching on human leavings – the garbage, the garden, etc. etc. Not really desirable house guests, I’d say.

  4. Deborah Barlow Says:

    So glad to have you back. And whether it is ratness vs voleness or another jeweled memory from your past, I love knowing you are around. Welcome home.

  5. ybonesy Says:

    Funny dialog between you and your friends. I love the chiding. Also, so many great words and terms you use…”taking up domicile.” What a fabulous phrase, and so elegant. But yes, imagine if he leaves the sliding glass door open even to run out and run in, that rodent might even decide to slip into the house. Not a nice thought.

  6. canadada Says:

    … we are ALL the Creator’s creatures …

    Weed or flower?
    Vole or rat?
    You or me?
    What do WE see?

  7. anthonynorth Says:

    That was funny. As to what it was, it depends on pessimism or optimism – as long as they don’t take hold …

  8. suburbanlife Says:

    Cori – I wish we could see cardinals here on the West Coast. The closest we can come to see that fiery red is the flash of red on Red-winged- blackbirds, which is all the more precious for being a swift glimpse. But life in winter is tough on rodents, especially when their diet is reduced to paper oil-filters in cars? G

    Nita – thank you for your generous comment! G

    Loookingforbeauty – can’t blame you for your regard of these beasties, especially since your unfortunate experience with them in the ceiling of your house last winter. That is really yuk-inducing!. G

    Deborah – very sweet of you to welcome me back. i consider myself hugged. G

    ybonesy – there is nothing quite like a holiday with these women. We feel and act like ten-year-old girls, complete with the kvetching, disagreements, laughter and poking fun that accompanies a group of ‘girls’.
    I am fearful that we may inadvertently have invited these rodents to take up housekeeping inpoor Ron’s house, what with us leaving sliding doors open all the time. One afternoon, whilst i was napping and Martha and Jeanie were scaling a local ‘mountain’, I had left the doors open and a hummingbird got caught in the living room. Poor thing was trying to fly repeatedly through the big picture window. Jeanie caught it in a towel and released it unscathed, Thank God! G

    Canadada – you are absolutely right! WE ALL ARE. G

    Anthonynorth – thanks for dropping by and commenting. We did have a blast! G

  9. christine Says:

    I agree with what Nita said. You have a way of drawing in the reader, making us care about your escapades, trials, and tribulations.

    I hope it was a vole. Rats seem to thrive on rooting through human waste, so disgusting. Voles seem cleaner and nicer. I’m voting for the vole.

    Welcome back to the web!

  10. Monica Says:

    I’ve had two of these rodents in my garden feeding, again, on bird seeds. Our local branch of Wild Life Trust (UK) have come back and said they may have been rats as voles live within 5m of water/stream edge. They also suggested I contact the district council to have them eradicated.

    Voles or water rats (remember Ratty from the Wind in the Willows?) are an endangered species in the UK as people and construction workers don’t always distinguish between voles and brown rats and destroy their habitat.

    However, having checked a multitude of websites for photos of the two species, I’m inclined to believe that my visitiors were in fact voles – silky brown fur, beautiful eyes, quite tame and not disturbed by finches and doves feeding nearby – almost half standing and munching on the seeds turining themselves into furry balls. Too pretty to be vermin, I say.

    I believe the harsh winter and the frozen stream has made them venture well beyond the 5m radius of their habitat in search of food up the hill where I live.

  11. suburbanlife Says:

    Monica – I too, in hindsight, prefe to think we had sighted a vole – it was a delightful-looking little critter, very pretty. Surely with the nasty winter weather you have been blessed with in the UK this year might indicate your logic in thinking your little ‘vole’ was foraying farther afield in search for sustenance. All living creatures need sustenance, whether acquired in a manner which makes us humans squeamish or not. Thanks for the visit. G

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