Mice are cute, tiny, but pesky little animals that scurry around our yards, fields, and homes. Weighing in at only ½ ounce, mice don’t eat very much themselves, but they have a vast number of predators that see them as food.
Predators of mice include mammals such as cats, coyotes, bobcats, foxes, and weasels. Reptiles like lizards and snakes will also eat mice, along with birds of prey like owls and hawks. Mice avoid predators such as evasion techniques, camouflage, and as a last resort biting and scratching.
Mice rarely make it to old age as they are a common prey animal by many predators. Read on to take an in-depth look at 9 predators that eat mice!
1. Domestic Cats
Our feline friends are known to be a little less domesticated than their canine counterparts. Cats have a bit more ‘wild’ in them than domestic dogs and they very much still have a predator instinct.
Cats and mice come in contact most often around people’s homes. Folks who have outdoor cats or indoor mice are likely to run into a Tom and Jerry situation.
Domestic cats have some advantages over mice that give them an edge when they are skulking around searching for something to catch:
- Hearing: cats can hear in ultrasonic frequencies that are often used by mice to communicate. This gives cats an edge as they can occasionally locate a mouse without even needing to see it.
- Vision: Cats can’t see any better than humans at far distances, but they can discern very small movements at close ranges because they have excellent depth perception.
- Whiskers: Our kitty pals can use their whiskers to determine if they can fit into a small crevice that a mouse might be using as a hideaway.
A report from the Wilson Bulletin Journal found that in a 35-acre study plot, 6 cats were able to eliminate 4200 mice in eight months.
Now, this staggering number isn’t true of all domestic cats and many homeowners report that their cats aren’t interested in hunting mice. This can come with age or with a plushy indoor lifestyle, but still, many of our domestic kitties are serious predators of mice!
Snakes are often viewed as icky, slithery, scary, creepy, and unwelcome. Many view them as pests and unwanted visitors to the backyard.
Before you decide to get rid of your uninvited snake guest, consider the fact that they are free of rodent control. Many different species of snakes eat mice and are effective at keeping small populations under control.
According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, one snake can consume as much as 9 pounds of mice per year. Most mice weigh under an ounce, but even if we put them at 1 ounce per mouse, that’s still 144 mice per year!
Snakes Get Creative In Their Ways Of Catching Mice
Snakes have it a little rough because they have no legs, arms, or claws. They have to get a little creative while prowling for mice:
- Size: Small and medium-sized snakes can often squeeze into tight spaces where a mouse might hide from larger predators.
- Venom: some species of snakes can use their venom to subdue mice, making them easier to consume.
- Pits: Vipers, boas, and pythons use pits to ‘see’ body heat, which is a way for them to track small critters like mice in brushy areas where they’re hard to see.
Snakes are ambush predators that sit and wait for a mouse to scurry by before lashing out. Black rat snakes are particularly effective at going after mice.
Like foxes, owls are somewhat specialist predators of mice. These large birds of prey are nocturnal, syncing their circadian rhythm with that of mice who are also nocturnal.
Barn owls specialize in eating mice, but many other species will go after mice if they have the opportunity. Since owls are hunters of the night, they rely heavily on sound rather than sight to catch their prey.
A study reported in the American Scientist took a look at how owls catch mice. They attached a crinkly piece of paper to the mouse’s tail and then placed the mouse on soft foam that would dampen their steps.
They found that, even at a very close distance, owls would still strike the paper, not the mouse, thus proving that owls search based on sound rather than sight.
Weasels are voracious eaters and specialize in tracking voles and mice. These carnivorous animals can live in a variety of climates but do not like high-elevation areas.
The most likely place a weasel and mouse will meet each other is in a field, a lightly wooded area, or a suburban neighborhood. Weasels do not like to prowl around thick forests or deserts where food is scarce.
When we say weasels are voracious eaters, we meant it! According to the Adirondack Ecological Center, weasels must consume 20%-30% of their body weight each day!
Weasels typically weigh anywhere from 2 to 10 ounces, which means they consume anywhere from 2-5 mice per day.
If you’re interested, you can read more about where weasels live here, and believe it or not, they mostly live in open fields where mice are plentiful!
Unlike weasels, owls, and foxes, lizards do not specialize in hunting mice. Instead, they are more generalist predators that will snack on mice if they get the chance.
Some of the most common lizards that eat mice include:
- Monitor lizards
- Bearded dragons
Lizards live in a variety of climates including tropical rainforests, cliffs, swamps, coastal regions, deserts, forests, and scrubland. However, they prefer to live in trees rather than on the ground in most circumstances.
Mice Aren’t A Lizard’s First Choice
When a lizard eats a mouse, it is most likely because of an opportunity rather than the lizard stalking the mouse.
In general, lizards use two forms of looking for food – they either ambush their prey or stalk them. When mice are the prey, it is because the lizard is using their ‘sit and wait’ ambush method and a mouse happens to walk by close enough that the lizard can grab it.
Lizards are more likely to eat plants, worms, insects, and spiders than they are to eat mice, but they certainly won’t pass up the opportunity!
Hawks are large birds of prey that can be seen soaring in the sky during the daytime, occasionally giving off a bone-chilling screech or caw.
These specialized aerial predators use their keen sense of sight and hearing to locate mice. They can spot mice while flying over an area, but they may also be perched on a post or tree while in search of a meal.
Some hawks such as the red-tailed hawk and broad-winged hawk are more likely to eat mice. Others, such as the cooper’s hawk, feed almost exclusively on other birds.
Weighing in anywhere between 10 and 35 pounds, bobcats are one of the largest predators on our list.
Bobcats prefer rocky areas, brush, and dense vegetation and this is where they are likely to encounter mice. These elusive animals specialize in preying on rabbits, but they occasionally go after mice.
Even though most people have never seen a bobcat, these large cats live almost everywhere in the United States.
While hunting, bobcats are pretty typical of any cat. They quietly stalk their prey, placing their back paws in the exact same spot as their front paws to avoid noise, and pounce when they are close enough.
According to the Smithsonian National Zoo, bobcats can sprint up to 30 miles per hour, making slow-moving mice an easy target. Bobcats are one of the most patient predators out there, traveling up to 7 miles in a single evening while tracking prey!
Foxes are well-known but secretive animals that prey on many of the same animals as coyotes and bobcats, including mice.
Foxes prefer habitats such as meadows and brushy fields, the perfect habitat to find mice and other small critters that use the plants as cover.
According to the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, mice are a staple in the diet of foxes and they somewhat specialize in going after them.
Foxes Have A Few Ways To Catch Mice
While searching for prey, foxes will trot back and forth over the same area and use their incredible sense of smell and hearing to locate mice. Once a mouse is spotted, foxes may use two different techniques to catch them:
- Rushing: when a fox spots a mouse, it may try to rush in and grab the mouse before it has a chance to run away. This happens more often when the mouse gets the drop on the fox.
- Pouncing: If the fox can spot the mouse before the mouse spots it, it might creep slowly toward the mouse until it is close enough to pounce like a cat.
Compared to other predators on our list, foxes are more specialized for mice and rodents.
Like lizards and hawks, coyotes do not specialize in preying on mice. They are opportunistic omnivores that will go after whatever is easiest.
Coyotes need a little over a pound of food per day, so feasting solely on mice isn’t an option. In addition to mice, coyotes eat deer, plants, fruits, and even insects to satisfy their hungry bellies!
Elusive as they are, coyotes occupy an extremely broad range of habitats and territories, however, the most likely place a mouse and coyote will clash is in an urban or suburban environment.
The area around people tends to have a high rodent population due to all the delicious food scraps we leave on sidewalks, in spilled garbage, or littler on the side of the road. This attracts mice which in turn attracts coyotes.
Coyotes have three major ways of finding food
- In pairs
- In packs
When it comes to prowling for mice, coyotes do this either alone or in pairs. Packs are meant for bigger games such as deer and elk.
Coyotes use similar tactics as bobcats, stalking their prey until they are close enough to pounce on it. Another advantage for coyotes is that they are nocturnal around urban environments, so they are active at the same time as mice.
You can read more about what coyotes eat in our article! Interestingly, there are 23 animals that make the cut ranging from small to large animals!
How Do Mice Defend Themselves?
Mice may seem like helpless little creatures. They are super small, and despite what we think when we see them in the house, they cannot run very fast. Mice top out at around 8 mph, which is the same as your average human.
Despite this, mice have a large repertoire of tools to defend themselves against their long list of enemies.
Mice use 3 basic defensive behaviors to defend against predators:
- Biting and scratching
They might have teeny tiny brains, but mice are pretty smart when it comes to avoiding and defending against predators.
1. They Have Multiple Escape Routes
One of the best evasion techniques that mice have is using escape routes to get away from predators as quickly as possible.
Most species of mice have extremely small home ranges and will not venture far from their nest or home base. According to the University of Kentucky, mice will typically only forage between 10 and 25 feet from their nest.
For this reason, mice are intimately knowledgeable about their terrain and know exactly where the best places to escape are. This might be in the form of a bush they can hide under or a crack they can squeeze through.
In addition to knowing their environment, mice also leave multiple escape routes in their burrows. This way, if certain predators like snakes or lizards can fit into their burrows, mice still have a way out. If you’re interested, take a look at some of the places where mice live.
They’re clever little rodents!
2. Mice Use Their Small Size To Their Advantage
Being small makes it difficult for mice to defend themselves against large predators like bobcats and coyotes, but being small has its advantages!
Large predators like owls, cats, coyotes, and bobcats have a difficult time following mice through dense brush or small rock crevices. They just can’t fit!
Combined with their multiple escape routes, mice have a good chance of evading a large predator in this way. The only exception is if the predator is patient and willing to wait them out or if the mouse is taken by surprise and has no time to run.
Mice also use their small stature to enter homes to avoid predators. You can read more about all the ways that mice get into your house from our article – and get this – they are way sneakier than you can even imagine!
3. They Often Camouflage To Avoid Predators
There are over 30 different species of mice species ranging from the well-known house mouse to the extremely rare Roraima mouse.
Every mouse may look the same to us, but there are subtle differences in the color of their fur, their shape, and their size that make them adapted to the environment where they are most frequently found.
These adaptations give mice an advantage against predators because they can blend into their environment.
Mice Have Secret Techniques Up Their Sleeves!
Mice use a technique called ‘freezing’ that is, well, exactly like it sounds! They either stand up straight or bend over and freeze completely still.
While in this position, the mouse hopes to blend completely into the environment to avoid fast-moving predators like hawks and owls.
A study reported in the Journal of Physiology & Behavior found that fleeing is the most common response to predators, but that freezing was used most often when the mouse did not have an escape route.
When mice have ventured a little too far from their homes, freezing and camouflage can come in handy!
4. Mice Use Walls And Edges To Their Advantage
Have you ever noticed how rare it is to see a mouse out in the open? Whether it be in your home or outdoors.
That’s because mice know that being out in the open is a bad idea. It leaves them open to their many watchful predators who will swoop in or pounce as soon as they get the chance.
To combat being easy to catch, mice use walls and edges to their advantage. Mice creep along the walls of our houses or the edges of forests and at the first sign of trouble, they dart into a hiding place.
Edges help mice stay hidden because their movements are more shadowed than if they were out in the open. The edges that mice use are typically close to one of their many escape routes, giving them easy access if a hungry predator were to come near.
5. Mice Will Bite And Scratch As A Last Resort
Most animals have a ‘last resort’ defense maneuver to escape a sticky situation. Skunks spray, deer snort and kick, and mice will bite and scratch.
In most cases, mice will try to flee, evade, or camouflage before they resort to biting and scratching. If a mouse is backed into a corner and forced to come in contact with a predator, it will bite and scratch to defend itself.
Mice have a surprisingly tough bite for how small they are and have been known to fight off predators far bigger than they are.
That being said, biting and scratching are used more often on animals of similar size that get too close for comfort. For your safety, if you see mice around your property and want to get rid of them, don’t do it yourself! Contact a local professional right away.
That’s A Wrap!
Mice can be troublesome little pests to have around the yard and in the house. The good news is several different predators that can help keep mouse populations in check.
To recap, the 9 animal predators that eat mice include:
- Domestic Cats
Foxes, owls, and weasels are somewhat specialized predators of mice which make up a large portion of their diet. Others, like coyotes, lizards, and hawks will prey on mice if the opportunity arises.
Predators and prey have a special relationship, almost like a yin-yang. Without prey, predators cannot eat, and without predators, prey populations would explode and destroy vegetation and their surrounding environment.
For us, predators of mice are important because they help keep these rodents in check. They can regulate their populations and keep them from overrunning our yards and homes.
Blanchard, R. J., Hebert, M. A., Ferrari, P., Palanza, P., Figueira, R., Blanchard, D. C., & Parmigiani, S. (1998, November 15). Defensive behaviors in wild and laboratory (Swiss) mice: the mouse defense test battery. Physiology & Behavior, 65(2), 201-209.
George, W. G. (1974). Domestic Cats As Predators and Factors In Winter Shortages of Raptor Prey. The Wilson Bulletin, 86(4), 384-395.
Konishi, M. (1973, July-August). How the Owl Tracks Its Prey: Experiments with trained barn owls reveal how their acute sense of hearing enables them to catch prey in the dark. American Scientist, 61(4), 414-424.
Timothy C. Roth, II, Steven L. Lima, Hunting Behavior and Diet of Cooper’s Hawks: An Urban View of the Small-Bird-In-Winter Paradigm, The Condor, Volume 105, Issue 3, 1 August 2003, Pages 474–483.