Its been nearly a week since Molly and I became the sudden foster parents to a small baby bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus) who shall here forth be known as Vlad. I’ve been avoiding writing about him for that duration out of fear that he may not last long without the care of a mother vole, but I believe that Vlad may be reaching the point of life security now and therefore his saga shall be told….
Chapter one: Raising Vlad through night one
Vlad’s discovery was sudden and worrying. I was doing some gardening for a neighbour clearing their steps from protruding foliage and dead leaves. In my own little world I pulled out elongated grasses and all sorts compiling it all into a pile for removal later on. Bending down to scoop up a load of leaves something caught my eye. Amongst the brown of the detritus something moved and rolled over revealing a light brown grey belly and tail rising from within the leaves. I didn’t think much of it at first until I gently pulled it out and held it in my hand realising how small this little guy was. He scrabbled around my fingers looking for an exit, finding one, dropping to the leaves once more and attempting to climb up the bank. I felt half inclined to let him do his thing but he struggled to get any firm grasp so I found myself continuously catching him as he fell after each repetition. Upon closer inspection I noticed that both his eyes were closed and it became clear that this little buddy was not supposed to be out and about on a gap year any time soon.
My heart dropped. I must have caused him to fall from a nest or a burrow from somewhere in the bank as I removed plants left, right and centre. He was now in my hand but I held him tight, scanning for any sign of a home amongst the bushes and bank crevasses around the steps. Failing that, I dashed back home with him still in hand to seek advice ASAP. Molly helped make a quick box for him using a sandwich box and dead grass whilst simultaneously researching everything we could on small rodents and how to look after them temporarily. After sometime we identified him as a male bank vole whose age must have ranged from 4 – 12 days old judging by his full coat but closed eyes. Luckily both dogs in the house seemed to not notice the new arrival but just in case we kept him high up. I repeatedly returned to the scene of the crime after looking up bank vole nests and for a good hour or so I stuck my head into bushes and hands deep into holes in the bank looking for any sign of his home, but to no avail (fancy language being a side effect of me calling this a Saga). That was it, either leave him to find his home but likely not make it or hand-rear him ourselves until he is of a releasable age but have to commit to bringing up an animal that we knew so little about. The answer was obvious really.
Housing and feeding
OK, so here is a little crash course on what we pulled together for the first night of looking after Vlad. Grab a box shoe box of decent size that you’ve been keeping for no good reason these past few months. Now grab some scissors or a knife and go full ham on that lid punching air holes for your little babba. Line the box with old t-shirt or something soft, we also filled as much space as we could with dry dead grass and leaves to give Vlad that natural feel during his stay. An additional soft item (a cloth in this case) makes up his bed in a way that he can hide within it away from top predators such as Kiki the cocker spaniel.
Food was a bit of a bum. Vlad was too young for solids, but cow milk is not recommended. Being totally unprepared for such a guest we didn’t have any of the ideal milk formulas, so had to resort to oat water for the first night. This genuinely worried me because, being so young, milk was an essential for development and I highly doubted the ability of oat water to give him what he needed. Vlad did suckle it from the small paintbrush eagerly so at least we knew he was hydrated. Feeding him every two hours, Vlad appeared to get used to our contact and even snuggle down in the warmth of our grasp. After each feed we tried to stimulate his digestion and toilet him using the tip of a cotton bud (above), but he would only ever pee which was of slight concern as they are prone to fatal blockage if they don’t shed their solid wastes.
Despite all these worries Vlad made it through night one in his new shoe box home. We didn’t feed him continuously through the night but his last feed was around mid-night and I awoke at 05:00 am to give him some breakfast. He was lively, clearly still undeterred by my touch after a night of no contact which gave me hope for an easy rearing. I popped out that morning to gather goats milk for a more sustainable feed which he took to very quickly! It was excellent to see him properly feeding and knowing that it was actually providing him with nutrients he required to grow strong like bull.