That Touch of Mink
Mar 05, 2013
Though the mink is an elusive nocturnal animal, during the last year or so, many visitors to North Park Village Nature Center have asked, “What is that little brown ferret, otter, or weasel-like animal that’s playing in the wetland?” A mink sighting was confirmed when one of the Nature Center’s butterfly monitors snapped pictures last July of five American Mink.
Mink are in the Mustelidae family, which include weasels, otters, ferrets, badgers, wolverines, and skunks. Like skunks, mink have anal scent glands that they use mainly for marking their territory, but mink lack the spraying precision and pungent smell of skunk. Mink share other common characteristics with their relatives, including a long sleek body and tail, rounded ears, short legs, thick dense water-repellant fur, and a carnivore’s diet.
Getting a glimpse of the mink in winter is possible, especially if you look around the bank of the wetland. Mink may den in the roots of trees or in fallen, hollow logs. Cattails also make good shelter and a great place to find food. They do not hibernate, but instead huddle at home on cold days. Mink have been spotted at the Chicago River and at the Gompers Park pond.
Winter and early spring are socializing times for mink, as this is their mating season. Males have a larger living range than females, up to five miles compared to two miles, which means that males may mate with many females. Females that mate early in winter experience delayed embryo development (delayed implantation), which enables them to postpone birthing their “kits” until late spring. Typically, anywhere from three to six kits are raised by the female and stay with her through the fall, when they’re old enough to go off on their own.
Mink are not picky eaters. A winter feast may include mice, voles and rabbits. Even though mink weigh between 1-3 pounds, they are feisty, strong, and prey on larger animals. They may also dive under the ice to hunt for resting fish. While looking for their own food, mink do have to pay attention to their surroundings. The preserve is home to great horned owl and coyote which think mink are a good meal.
With the arrival of spring, the preserve’s wetland is a valuable habitat for the mink family. Nesting geese provide nourishing eggs for a springtime snack, and the fish, crayfish, insects, worms, frogs and toads supply food for the growing kits.
During your next visit to North Park Village Nature Center’s preserve, stop on the boardwalk at the wetland and look for any frolicking flashes of brown fur, listen for rustling cattails – you might find yourself enjoying the antics of our resident mink family.
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