Sometimes I have my Friday garden-and-wildlife blogstory all planned out when something else pops out of nowhere to steal the limelight.
So it was this week, when I went out to fill up the birdfeeders and caught a glimpse of something in the Ivy near my nyger seed feeder, something other than a Goldfinch for which it is intended.
I peered through the foliage to find some beady little eyes peering back at me:
Now, when it comes to rodents, I admit that the Brown Rat does send a shudder through me, that deep-rooted antipathy embedded in our collective consciousness, but this was no rat. It was smaller, cuter, and it was also coloured a warm, gingery brown, clearly different from the grey-brown of a House Mouse. And look at the neat, white underparts.
Normally, when faced with a such a combination of features, we are talking about a Wood Mouse, but on this occasion, it is something a little less common. Notice how a band of gingery-yellow fur wraps around the throat - this is a mouse called the Yellow-necked Mouse.
I stood still and waited to see if it would emerge, and clearly the lure of the nyger seed was too strong, for out it came.
Here you can see another of its subtle but diagnostic features - its bulging button eyes. Oh, and a rather more obvious body part - its incredible long tail. You can see it is covered in small pale hairs, pressed flat; in a Rat, the tail would be bare flesh. The ears, too, are much larger in proportion to its face than those of a Rat, giving it a much more of the 'ahh' factor.
What was also apparent, sadly, was that the tail was rather damaged at its base, perhaps inflicted by another Yellow-necked Mouse, for these can be feisty creatures.
Might your garden support Yellow-necked Mice? Well, they are generally thought of as creatures of ancient woodland, adept at climbing high into the branches to eat tree seeds. And their distribution is confined to England and Wales, absent from about the Humber northwards, and not extending into southwest England.
So, if you live in the right area and have a garden containing mature trees and with woodland nearby, then there is a chance, although Yellow-necked Mice are almost exclusively nocturnal making them difficult to observe. It makes my sighting all the more unusual as I am definitely in suburbia, a good few miles from large areas of woodland, and it was full daylight. It just shows that anything is possible.
For most people, the smaller, daintier Wood Mouse is much more likely to be found (and seen) in gardens, where all the wildlife-friendly practices of growing trees and shrubs and having log and stick piles give you a great chance of hosting a population.
Which begs one last question: do you actually want mice in your garden? Well, hopefully you'll be pleased to know that both the Wood and the Yellow-necked Moue have very little interest in entering our houses. They are clean and tidy neighbours, quiet and inconspicuous, and a very welcome sign that your garden is a rich and biodiverse habitat.
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