Mice in the trees at Locust Lane

Mouse in a tree at Locust Lane

November 21, 2010 

Dear Chicken Lady,  I hope you don’t think this is a stupid question but are mice afraid of heights? I don’t know who else to ask and this is very important to me. Sincerely, Afraid of Heights but More Afraid of Mice
Dear Fraidy, 
 No problem, I have been assured more than once that I excel at stupid questions. And this is far from stupid as any assiduous chicken farmer knows. It is bad enough to know that any misstep could result in a wayward mouse running up your leg let alone worrying about them dropping out of trees onto your head. [As Chicken Lady’s readers know, you really have to worry about the earthworms falling out of the trees. That should be enough.] I lay awake at night myself wondering if the young studs of the mouse world are planning to prove their manhood defending their territory. Do they dare each other through some kind of hazing ritual to run over your feet, scurry down an arm, skydive down your neck? The world of farming abounds in such hazardous deeds.

The dogs continue their quest to uncover every mouse hole that appears. Not every hole will be productive so they carefully sniff out the ones most likely to produce a nest of tender, hairless mouse kits. A summer of warm weather and plentiful food has resulted in all the mice nests overflowing with young who are now crowded out of their summer homes and must move on. Despite all members of Locust Lane putting forth their best efforts with chickens catching them, the cat leaving hers at our door, poison set out, traps everywhere; still they leave their calling cards, a trail of jettisoned droppings in empty feed bowls, in the water dishes, everywhere. So the trees are a definite possibility for the mice to scale in search of new homes.

One of my current fields of study while I stand around waiting for the ducks’ bathwater to fill has been to study the decline and disintegration of dead trees around the pens. The bugs get to work first, attacking the new growth just under the bark of the deceased timber. Poke a hole in the bark and you can see the insides crumble away as you prod at them. The worms evidently love this stuff and squirm their way heavenward as they chow down the decaying delicacies. I believe the mice come next, excavating runs in this softened wood, going higher and higher as the ground level real estate fills up. The trees seem to decay from the ground up with the tops of the trees being the last to go. As you look for holes you will see they are mostly not above eye level but there are a few up there and whether they are made by mouse or bird I couldn’t say.

I can verify that there are mice in those holes right around eye level through close observation. You know how it feels when you think you are being watched? Well, out in the bird pens there are lots of eyes on you, some of those belonging to the mice. I spotted a pink nose just below a pair of beady black eyes today. Thinking I might as well take a picture I pulled out my trusty camera., turned it on, selected the correct setting, set the macro focus, got into the perfect position, focused, and with a flash and a shutter snap the mouse disappeared. Patience is essential in the photography business and a pink nose finally reappeared as the camera refocused on a different opening. For quite a while the mouse hid just out of sight with only his 3 inches of tail dangling out. Figuring he needed motivation I tickled his tail with a handy pine needle with no results. Assuming that my ability to grab a slimy worm and pull it out of the ground could be easily adapted to mousing, I grabbed the tail and gently held it hoping that would get the little fellow to turn around to see what had him by the tail, but not a muscle twitch was felt.

Faced with the dilemma of whether to pull the mouse out or let go, and uncertain about what to do with a mouse dangling by the tail, I recalled a time when I was once chastised for disposing of a dead chicken without performing an autopsy. At the time the theory was advanced that one of our big Malay roosters had choked to death on a mouse. My response at the time to the big cheese in charge of poultry operations was a “You’re thinking I will do what?!? “ So revenge was considered but secretly grateful for one less chicken, the mouse was set free, after one fuzzy picture of a nose, and some insect eggs that were sharing the mouse’s habitat.

Odds are the mice are not up too far about your head and have no desire to jump on you, but it is something to be aware of. Don’t stand under trees in a thunder storm if you are afraid of lightning, and don’t stand under a dead tree with sawdust piles around the bottom of it if you are worried about mice dropping from the sky. And if you want a picture of those mice poking their heads out of the tree trunk, ask Santa for a motion sensor you can hook your camera and tripod to because life is short and other jobs await your attention. Sincerely, Chicken Lady

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