Many people are surprised to discover that the American mink resides in Will County, but as long as there is a source of water, minks are probably nearby. However, they prefer marshes and fields to woodlands.
Minks are semi-aquatic mammals related to weasels, badgers and otters. They are active all four seasons, and they are crepuscular. Crepuscular means that, no matter the season, they are most active at dusk and dawn.
Minks have dark fur with a little white patch at the chin. At their largest, they can be just over 2 feet long, which includes a 9-inch bushy tail. They have short legs, a flat face and tiny little ears. They also have a very flexible spine, which allows them to move quickly. When they move fast, it is called bounding.
Signs of a Mink
You may see evidence of minks, especially by the water’s edge, but it can be hard to identify. They have five toes on both their front and back feet, but usually their tracks only show four toes. Their feet also have a little webbing to help them swim, but the webbing is rarely seen in their footprints.
Minks also make tunnels in the snow. Other mammals that are active in winter, like voles and shrews, also make snow tunnels, but theirs are much smaller than the minks’.
A Mostly Solitary Life
Minks mate between January and March, and the babies are born in April or May. A mother will have between one and eight babies, which are called kits. They are born completely helpless. They do not open their eyes for 25 days! They are weaned at six weeks, and by eight weeks they are hunting alongside their mothers.
Young minks head out on their own when they are between 6 months and 10 months old. They usually live up to four years.
They will find natural spaces to call home, like under logs or brush piles, inside logs or in the spaces between roots or rock piles. They will also steal the burrow of a muskrat after they have them for lunch. You may often find pieces and parts of the mink’s prey near the entrances to their homes.
To Hunt and Be Hunted
Minks are true hunters and carnivores. They have poor eyesight and hearing, but a keen sense of smell that they depend on to find their prey. They will eat chipmunks, mice, rabbits, fish, snakes, frogs, water birds and more. Their favorite food is the muskrat. If their catch is too big, it’s no problem. They will bring food back to their home and save it for later.
While minks may fall victim to larger predators such as owls, coyotes or foxes, the biggest threat they face is habitat loss. Thank goodness there are forest preserves managing and protecting wetlands for all species: animal, plant and fungus … including our ferocious friend the American mink.
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