The Deer Mouse: Food for Many

by Dave Hanks

You have probably seen a Coyote stalking along in the tall grass, pausing, and then leaping skyward in an exaggerated pounce. The canine is catching rodents and Deer Mice are among the most plentiful. This white-bellied, white-pawed, and white-tailed mouse is eaten by owls, hawks, snakes, and other small meat eaters. The mouse does not hibernate and a Great Horned Owl can hear the mouse running under the snow and correctly gage where to pounce to make the kill.

Because it is preyed upon so heavily, reproduction at a rapid rate is essential.The female mouse will produce up to seven litters or more when feeding conditions are favorable. Her gestation lasts from 21 to 24 days and she comes back into estrus immediately (postpartum) upon giving birth. You could say that she is continually pregnant. The nest is a hollow ball of grass on the ground, and the new born in it are hairless, wrinkled, pink, and with their eyes not opened. The mother will transport the young to new locations, either in her mouth, or by the babies clinging to her nipples.

Deer Mice are poor climbers and so their life is spent on the ground where they dine on seeds and insects. They especially prefer weedy or tall grassy areas and the resulting seeds and cover. There is a danger that can come to humans from contact with this mouse’s droppings. They may contain a deadly virus which causes HPS (Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome).

There are over 100 sub-species of this rodent. Their white-colored undersides will differentiate them from the mouse we are most familiar with – the House Mouse. Deer Mice are nocturnal. The one pictured alerted us to its presence – we could hear it chewing away just outside our camper door.

A Deer Mouse gnawing on our birdseed in the middle of the night

A Deer Mouse gnawing on our birdseed in the middle of the night