I looked out our window one morning recently and saw a mink along the shoreline of Lake Metigoshe. It scurried around for a few minutes before disappearing in the water near some cattails.
These semi-aquatic members of the weasel family can be found over much of North America. As you may expect, they are at home near most any body of water, from marshes and lakes to creeks and rivers where they can prey on a wide range of animals including muskrats, rabbits, and other small mammals, waterfowl and other birds, and fish. They are rather opportunistic feeders.
As most everyone knows, mink are typically dark brown with a white or perhaps yellowish chin spot, with maybe a bit more color on the throat or chest. Males are larger than the females, with the males weighing around 3 pounds while the females around 2 pounds. They are about a foot and a half to two feet long, with the females again on the smaller side. The mink I observed looked rather small, so was probably a female.
Both males and females will have a home range of around 3 square miles, but as you might expect that can be quite variable, depending on habitat and other factors. And although the ranges of males and females may overlap, members of the same sex are not welcome.
Mating occurs around March in our state. Usually one litter of 2-7 young will be born in May, with the young staying with the female until fall.
Mink are also rather opportunistic when it comes to denning sites. They may utilize an unoccupied burrow such as that of a ground squirrel. Unoccupied muskrat huts are also commonly utilized, as are rock piles, brush piles, hollows in a log or tree, or even a culvert.
As many of you, mink have the reputation for developing a taste for domestic poultry: after all, they often taste like chicken! The stories of mink raiding hen houses are legendary. Art Bailey, in his A Biological Survey of North Dakota from 1926 wrote about one report that came from Willows, ND in 1886. In one night, a mink killed all but one chicken on the farm. The mink returned the next night and tried to get at the carcasses that the farmer had placed up on the house. The mink promptly returned the third night and killed the last rooster.
So, if you are around bodies of water this summer, be on the lookout for this interesting mammal. And if you are raising chickens, make sure they are secured in a mink-proof structure at night.