Protecting and enhancing the natural values of Salt Spring Island and its surrounding waters


Townsend Vole

Townsend Vole

Townsend Vole Microtus townsedii

The Townsend’s vole is a rodent known to thrive throughout wetlands and grassland meadows. Though considered one of the largest vole species around, adults typically weigh between 47 and 82.5 grams, and extend to a maximum length of 24 centimeters. Their fur is dark brown in colour and often tipped with black, while their bellies are dull grey, and they have medium sized ears. Townsend’s Voles can be found as far north as Triangle Island near Northern Vancouver Island, east to Chilliwack, and south to northern California.

Open grassy areas are prime habitats for Townsend’s voles and they are up to eight times more abundant in grassland set-asides than in forage fields. Garry Oak meadows are a key habitat for these rodents.

Their capability to reproduce every few weeks between April to October each year, as well as their large litter size of up to nine young per female, make Townsend’s Voles an important food for many of Salt Spring’s important predators including hawks and owls such as the Barn owl and even the Great Blue Heron.

Voles feed on the roots of grasses, sedges, and other soft-stemmed plants, as well as fallen seeds and leaves. Many local predators which are drawn to the voles’ activity both day and night.

A tell-tale sign of their habitat is the presence of tunnels through vegetation along the ground; these runways are often used throughout many generations of voles and can extend down to five centimeters deep. They spend a great deal of time in their underground burrows where they create an extensive system of traveling, feeding, and nesting corridors overlapping one another.

Their burrowing habits also assist in increasing soil aeration. Townsend’s Voles are able swimmers and they will often make the entrance to their summer burrows underwater.

Photo by CMITO