1/21/18: A Sub-Zero Invasion

During this winter’s exceptionally cold weather, a friend of ours was staying with us at our elderly (1872) little brick farmhouse outside Saginaw, which sits next to open fields and woodlands. He looked up from his reading, feeling observed. There, on the carpet, a teeny mouse looked up at him. It sported amazing kangaroo-like legs and a very long tail with a tufted tip. The creature couldn’t weigh much more than an ounce or two. When our friend moved slightly, it took fright and disappeared. Hoping for crumbs dropped from our crackers and cheese it would return when we humans had retired to our beds. 

Les knew what sort it was, immediately. “Ha- you’re harboring a type of field mouse inside these walls, out of the lethal cold.” 
A week later it appeared again in the same room, and so I got a good look at it. Wow! I’d never seen such big hind legs. 

Curious, I did some research. We were accommodating a common woodland jumping mouse. 
The creature can jump and leap up to 9-10 feet! 

I was (naively) astonished that it could have found a way in. I’d had every brick on the elderly exterior re-mortared, and cracks around every brick sealed before repainting. Furthermore, I’d walked around the house last fall with a box of Brillo pads to seal any other possible tiny entrances that enterprising mice might exploit. I plugged perhaps six more thread-thin ones. Most of them were higher up- at eye height and didn’t go all the way inside. Our home was surely secure. 

Not so. 

Uh-oh, thought I. There is never ONE mouse. I’d look for evidence. 
So, the next morning I shifted the living room furniture and, using our powerful shop vac, got down on my knees to vacuum where the couch and upholstered chairs had been. Teeny poop, that looked like black rice, hugged the walls. 
Yup. This was a favored trail...It had come up through the heating vent. I also found lots and lots of what looked like white rice under the sofa. How was that possible? I didn’t store rice. 

On a hunch, I opened the sofa bed to find lots of prickly field seeds – and other seeds that were prettily colored- - Prettily colored??? I clapped my head with my hands. OH NO! That mouse had scampered up the stairs to BB Birdie’s room to steal her dropped seeds, and store them between the sofa’s steel bed poles. And, right at the sofa’s upholstered corner, bits of stuffing had been removed. 
RATS!  Those little beasts were surely using the filler for their nests. Liberty House was mouse heaven! 

Lisa and her birdie had moved to Vermont almost two months ago, and I hadn’t been living here for some time...so, emboldened mice had moved in. I raced up to the tiny bedroom where BB Birdie had lived, and looked carefully around. There, in the empty closet, was Sir Mouse’s main larder. Pyramid-piles of colorful seed were heaped on the plank floor next to the walls. He’s slipped into the tiny space at the door’s bottom to store his food out of sight. And, of course, mouse droppings were there, too. 
We ordered humane traps, which arrived within 36 hours, but not one mouse fell for the delectable sniff of Jiff. Mice know about traps, and besides, there were large bird food caches to dine on. 
Another thing that put me off: Joe suggested we find a nice cage with tiny mesh and keep the mice we caught inside it fed and watered until it got warmer, and he could drop them off somewhere wild. No Way! That was taking ‘humane’ too far. There weren’t cages built that way. We’d have to construct it. Again, no way I’d mother mice for months.) 

Word reached the rest of the field mice. Suddenly, with temps remaining well below zero, we found ourselves besieged. Multiple relatives had joined their scout! They made excited noises all night long. 

Defeated, we rang Best Pest Control, a Bay City firm, and the guy came right over. “I hear you about your house being freshly sealed last summer by professional contractors, starting at five feet below the ground- and then checked by you this past fall, using Brillo Pads. But just to be sure, let’s tour the perimeter. Oh, and by the way, mice will also enter through the front door when you do. Believe it.” 

I donned my thick winter coat, pulled on my boots and mittens, and the two of us waded into snow heaped next to the house. He bent down to peer closely at hidden areas. He pointed. “There.” I saw a tiny crack stuffed with a bit of Brillo pad, which had been flattened by mousy feet, creating a padded trail. When he pried out the Brillo pad I saw that the slit now led all the way inside. 
(But when I’d done the sealing, there’d been no entrance. That crack had been, at most, a meager shelter from the wind.) 
The man cut off a small hunk of paper-thin copper mesh from a roll that flashed a brilliant burnt gold color in the morning light. 

“Brillo pads won’t last past one season. This copper mesh, though, will be effective forever. I repeat: forever. Once you jam it in a space, that space is forever inaccessible.” 

He pushed it in and used a very tiny screwdriver to make sure it was seated well. We found seven extremely tiny new entrances. All were permanently mesh-sealed. 

“Mice will find a way in using their sharp incisors and claws to gnaw away tiny time-weakened barriers. That’s what happened here. They gnawed through the ‘dead end’...and entered the basement.” 

He pointed out powdery brick and mortar atop the snow that looked fresh. I had missed this obvious sign. 

Then he went downstairs into our Michigan basement, pleased that I had not cleaned the mouse poop from the big empty cupboards lining the stone walls. 
“I need to observe their favorite trails. Do you see the evidence along the cupboard walls and up into the timbers above?  Now I can lay these chunks of bait where mice actually are. 
Wait three or four days to vacuum down here. Wear a mask to make sure you aren’t breathing in the dust and droppings. The population has exploded, responding to your home’s safety from our very cold weather. But, within a week, any mice that enter and eat this bait will dry up and mummify. Most eat and go outside, as usual, to drink the snow, and so they’ll die outside. The rest wither and dry up in the walls. Dried rodents emit no smell. In any case, soon you won’t have a problem anymore.” 

Two days later Bryn and I walked around our property. She stopped suddenly by our fence, froze into a point, and looked down. Cocking her head she listened intently, crouched, then soared high and fell straight down, exactly as a fox does when hunting rodents in the wild! A shocked mouse immediately flipped over and dashed into a snow-tunnel, leaving her confused. When I scrapped away the hardened 6-inch-deep snow with a spade, its hole was easily exposed. Mice had been burrowing through the deeper snow to reach their underground burrows on the other side of the fence. That field hadn’t been planted in decades and was probably crammed with mice. As the weather had become far too cold, even down deep into the ground, if they tried to hibernate they would never wake up. So, they’d moved in with us. 

A week after the treatment our home showed no signs of mice. No poop. No noises. Nothing. (Joe found one desiccated mouse at the bottom of an old bucket, but that was it.) 

I am certainly sympathetic to their plight. The little creatures are simply trying to survive. I hated having to kill them. But not to address this rapid invasion sensibly would be irresponsible, and even dangerous. Mice carry fleas and cause disease. They often gnaw power lines (TV, fridge, computer, and electric wires inside walls) and get into human food stores. In fact, they already had. A five-pound bag of white rice, set inside an under-counter kitchen cabinet with NO holes in back, and no way in, save by its door, which is rarely opened, had still been penetrated. 
Piles of white rice were scattered all over the living room and were almost impossible to see, as the carpet is also white. I only noticed when, on my knees, I’d used the shop vac’s hose for close work. I was shocked at the quantity of rice and confused as to where it had come from- until I remembered that cabinet. 

Drastic measures had to be taken. 

Brutal cold created a situation that had gotten out of hand in record time, I mused. Next autumn, though, I’ll ring Best Pest early, and have them thoroughly inspect our home’s exterior once again for potential weaknesses. 

Prevention is the best cure.

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