Importance of short tailed or field voles to conserving predators and raptors
In the winter when the rough grass has stopped growing and weeds have died down in our wood, the runs or motorways of the short tailed or field vole become more prominent. This little creature plays a very big part in the ecosystem that exists within our smallholding, because it is the main source of food for the Kestrels and Tawny Owls found at Fife Smallholder. Both these birds have nationally been in decline, and their presence here is a good example of the part that smallholdings can play in conserving wildlife in the countryside.
What does a short tailed or field vole look like?
Where do short tailed field voles live?
They are found generally in moist grassy habitats, such as woodland, marsh, or river banks. Here we find them in the rough grass in our wood and wild areas.
Although they dig burrows, they usually build nests above ground and build intricate runways through grasses. Sometimes, voles will use the burrows of moles to get around. Many vole families will share the runway systems.
Voles feed on a variety of herbaceous plants and grasses. Voles feed on above and below ground plant parts such as foliage, seeds, stems, roots and bulbs. As food becomes scarce in autumn and early winter, voles may seek the tasty cambium of small tree roots, crowns and trunks.
Short tailed field voles can damage trees
Who eats field voles?
Kestrels and Tawny Owls eat the voles that are found in our wood and rough grassland on the smallholding. As an important food source for owls and some other predators, their population peaks and troughs in a four-year cycle. As they travel, field voles leave a trail of scent to warn off other voles. Hunting birds of prey, such as kestrels (identified by its characteristic hovering and perch hunting techniques) look out for the UV light that radiates from the trails.
Relationship between voles and Tawny Owls
Reasons for the decline of the tawny owl
- Hedgerow destruction and replacement with maintenance free fencing. Great for Modern Farming but bad for mice and voles
- Increase in stocking density of Sheep and greater silage production. Lots of food for Cows and Sheep but means that the grass is too short for voles to run around in.
Relationship between field voles and Kestrels
The effect of snow on voles and predators
Snow can be good for voles as it protects their runs from the Owls and Kestrels, and voles can benefit from a fall of snow because it provides an insulating blanket over their territory. Voles can eat roots below ground, and can therefore continue to find food.
Predators such as Tawny Owls and Kestrels find it much harder to catch voles after a snow fall and this weather can put great stress on these birds.