Townsend Voles

Townsend's Meadow Vole / Microtus townsendi

Distribution Map of the Townsend Vole Distribution of the Townsend Vole
Picture from - National Museum of Natural History ©2004 Smithsonian Institution

Area of Distribution 

The Townsend's vole is found in the open grasslands west of Cascades, western WA, and on the coast and in the Coast Range of Oregon, and north west California. You can tell which type of vole you have by its size and distribution. The Oregon vole is smaller than the Townsend's vole, and the Oregon vole is found from the coast to the Cascade Mountains, while the Townsend's vole is found primarily on the coast and in the Coast Range.

Above ground foraging Townsend Vole populations can be controlled using the Vole Control Bait Station System with the Tent Set-up Method.


Physical characteristics 

The Townsend's vole is one of the largest voles in North America, and it is also very abundant where it occurs. It is 6 to 9 inches long with a 1 . 3 inch tail. It has dark brownish fur and ears large enough to stick out above its fur.


The Townsend's vole has a high reproductive rate. It is capable of breeding at 3 weeks of age, and can produce up to 13 litters of four to eight young a year.


Townsend's Vole may be active day or night. Their habitat is marshes, wet meadows and riparian woodlands. When numbers are high they may exclude other rodents from its range through competition. Their diet includes velvet grass and other grasses, horsetail, alfalfa, clover, rushes, sedges, purple-eyed grass, and buttercups. When green food is still available in winter, the Townsend.s Vole often stores and eats bulbs at that time. A good swimmer, this vole often constructs the entrances to its burrow system underwater. In summer and winter its nests are constructed of grass. In summer, the nest is placed inside a rounded knoll above water level. In winter, it is placed on dry ground away from water, which might freeze and prevent access. They use runways most of the year except when vegetation in summer is thick enough to completely conceal their bodies and they can move about at will under the cover of the vegetation.

Signs of Townsend Vole Activity 

They make clipped runways in the grass or sedges. Look for their burrow openings as well as damage to roots, tubers and bulbs. A stressed shrub or tree may be easily moved back and forth because of the loss of their root system. If you pull it up, it may look like a sharpened pencil.

They also damage conifer seedlings less than 2" in diameter. Their damage to seedlings has distinctive characteristics. The bark is removed from ground level to about 5" up the stem and has a typically fuzzy appearance. They remove only small portions of bark because their teeth are so small. They start on one side of a seedling and progress upward, so seedlings tend to be peeled only on one side at first. Later more extensive damage may occur and they may girdle the seedling. They leave their droppings where they eat, so you may find piles of droppings at the base of damaged seedlings. Unlike other animals such as moles or pocket gophers, they don't mound dirt at their tunnel entrances, so small burrow openings that are interconnected by trails and no soil mounds are a sure sign of voles.

Removing their protective cover from predators can help reduce their numbers. See Habitat Modification.