Our gardens have many unseen mammalian visitors. Some, like badgers and foxes, leave evidence of their passing but others, such as mice, voles and shrews, can be daily visitors that are rarely seen. Sadly, the only time most of us encounter these creatures is when the cat brings them in.
While few of us welcome the rat-like house mouse, the dainty yellow-necked field mouse is another matter entirely. With its big, liquid eyes, large ears and long tail it is an attractive animal and though it may invade the garden shed it is happiest in the garden. Field mice are extraordinarily athletic, with all the climbing ability of a squirrel. They can run up tree trunks, along branches and drop down to feeders before scampering away just as quickly.
The yellow-necked mouse has a predominately southerly distribution but its close cousin, the wood mouse, is found throughout the British Isles. The two are not easy to tell apart but the latter is slightly smaller and greyer underneath. Both will raid birdtables and feeders but usually only under cover of darkness.
Many large, rural gardens hold field voles but they are difficult to observe in the wild as they are shy and seldom venture out of cover. With their blunt noses, relatively small eyes and short tails they are easy to recognise. Unlike mice, they are strictly ground-dwellers. Common shrews are also widespread: they are often active during the day but tend to keep out of sight.
Lastly, look out for dormice if you live in southern England and your garden adjoins woodland with hazel trees. Though shy and strictly nocturnal, they are not as rare as we have often been led to believe.