Orkney voles are a subspecies of the common vole, and have developed over thousands of years on the Orkney Islands in Scotland. They look very similar to the field vole but are larger and have shorter, paler brown fur. Their ears are almost bald inside but furry at the top. Orkney voles are active both day and night, but especially at dusk and dawn. They run quickly and often stand up on their hind legs to scan their surroundings. They burrow shallow tunnel systems and small chambers in which to nest and store food. They return to their nests about every three hours to rest. They are good swimmers.
Orkney voles are an important food source for the birds of prey on the islands.
Head-body length: 9 – 12 cm
Tail length: Nearly a third of the body length
Weight: Up to 100g
Lifespan: Up to 18 months
Two to four litters of 2-12 pups are born between March and September and the young are weaned by about three weeks. Both males and females spend much time in the nest with the young, grooming them and retrieving them if they are dislodged.
Mainly grasses and herbaceous plants.
Mainly grassy banks along roads and ditches and grazed pastures but also found on moorland and in bogs. They are not as reliant on long grass for cover as common voles, as they often burrow. They also use stones of old ruined buildings as shelter.
Hen harriers, stoats, kestrels and short-eared owls.
Habitat loss and fragmentation due to agricultural pressure.
Status & conservation
Non-native and common where it occurs.
Population size & distribution
Scotland, 1 million. The population is thought to be stable. Orkney voles are present on eight of the Orkney islands.
Did you know?
A slightly different island subspecies of the common vole (with pure grey fur on its underside) is present on Guernsey in the Channel Islands.