You have to give mice credit. They’re survivors. As days shorten the tiny mammals seem to know that spending the winter in a warm home with bountiful food left out beats eking out a grim existence in the cold and snow.

Each fall mice move into houses to enjoy free meals and warmth. Human residents often aren’t aware that they’re sharing their home with these tiny residents until droppings appear on the kitchen counter.

There are two general types of mice that enjoy indoor winter life.

The common house mouse is a gray animal native to the Old World. It was brought to North America soon after European settlers arrived centuries ago. Now found all over the world, this mouse almost always lives near people and is rare out in the woods. It often spends its entire life in a home, dining on easily accessible food, and even having babies – lots of babies – inside. Catching sight of a mouse scurrying across the floor is rare, but the shy animals leave their calling cards as droppings that look a little like grains of pepper.

Several species of native mice, often called white footed or deer mice, also enjoy wintering indoors. These beautiful native rodents usually spend the warm months outside, have their babies there, then enter a home in the fall. As the name implies, the animal’s feet and belly are white.

White footed mice cache food. Find a pile of sunflower seeds in an old shoe, and you’ve found evidence of this animal. House mice don’t cache food but eat it where it’s discovered.

Hardly anyone wants to share their home with mice of any species. Here are tips for keeping mice outdoors where they belong:

• Fill exterior cracks and holes with caulking and weather-stripping to make entry challenging. Tightening up the house reduces the unwelcome entry of both tiny rodents and cold air.
• Eliminate food sources inside the house. Never leave pet food in open dishes overnight. Clean up spilled human food, even tiny crumbs. Store sunflower seed and pet food in metal containers with tight lids. Keep all human food inaccessible.
• Encourage and appreciate mouse predators. If owls wake you in the middle of the night with their raucous calls, just thank them. They are the midnight patrol eagerly converting mice to dinner. Many hawk species work the day shift seeking rodents. Snakes are also effective mouse predators but are only active during warm moths. Some cats catch and dine on mice but a pampered declawed tabby isn’t going to dent their numbers.

Despite the best efforts to discourage mice, some are bound to get into the house. Here are tips for getting rid of them:

The old fashioned mouse trap can be amazingly effective in catching and immediately killing mice. Buy a bunch of traps. We have about a dozen at Winding Pathways. Bait each with a dab of peanut butter or margarine, making sure that the bait gets pushed into the tiny circular piece of metal attached to the trigger. Mice almost always run along a wall or partition. Set traps against the wall with the trigger side nearest the wall. Set a bank of three or four traps side-by-side and against each other, all with triggers facing the wall.

We set the most traps close to where we see mice or their droppings, but also set some in rooms where we haven’t seen mice. Sometimes we catch them there. Even after we’ve caught a few mice we keep traps set until none have been caught for a couple of weeks.

Some traps claim to either catch mice alive or in a way that a human doesn’t have to touch the dead animal. We shun both. Supposedly the live traps are humane, but what do you do with that scrappy animal? Let it go outside? If so it may beat you back into the house, freeze to death, or be quickly caught by a predator. We consider a quick death by conventional mouse trap more humane.

Poisons and glue traps work but we also avoid them. Poison seems cruel and often a mouse dies a slow death behind the refrigerator or hidden in a wall. Soon the stench wafts through the house. Glue boards are pieces of cardboard or paper coated with amazingly sticky stuff. Any mouse that steps on it sticks. Trouble is glue boards don’t instantly kill the animal. Often in its effort to free itself the unfortunate animal gets completely stuck and a human needs to decide how to humanely dispose of a living but very stuck mouse. If you don’t want to live with mice as house guests, traps are better.