Article and photos © Carol McDougall

Of 35 threatened mammals in Canada, the largest is the blue whale and the smallest is a Maritime shrew. If you saw a blue whale, it would likely be unmistakable but would you know a shrew if you saw one?

On Gabriola Island the endemic Vancouver Island Vagrant Shrew is an important part of the food cycle of owls and other birds of prey. It lives near wetlands, meadows and open woodlands and may decide to nest near your garden. My gardening neighbour found a nest near our plots in the Commons last May. We didn’t know what it was. Gabriola shrews are velvety grey to dark brown in colour and pale underneath but the nestlings are pale all over. Shrews are smaller than mice with pointed noses, tiny eyes and ears and long tails. They mainly eat animals without a backbone like slugs and snails and some plant matter. Shrews are a gardener’s friend – not a foe.

Photos shows a very tiny nestling shrew with a hand for scale.

If you find a shallow, cupped-shaped nest, please leave them undisturbed and alive. Take photos to post to iNaturalist, like I did, so that scientists can learn more about shrews to help protect them and the species they support. My observation caught the attention of Liam Ragan, Provincial Coordinator for the Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas program in BC. He really wants to get an identification of a live shrew, which wasn’t possible with this nestling. Gabriola neighbours, I hope you can add to the data with your photos so we can enjoy our shy shrews forever.

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