by Carl Strang
Last weekend I paid a visit to Fullersburg Woods Forest Preserve. I was surprised to find mink tracks, representing at least 4 individuals, all over the preserve. In the three years my office was there I had seen tracks only once or twice per winter, with only one individual in each case. Today I thought I would share my entire dossier on that species. Here’s a photo of the critter, then on to the dossier.
We saw them frequently in daytime when floating the Tippecanoe River in Indiana when I was a child. Usually they ran along the shore or appeared in drift snags. Occasionally one dove under the water. I first identified the tracks at Fullerton Forest Preserve in 1985. Five toes each foot, very round appearance in sand or mud, larger than one would expect for the size of the animal (paddle feet for swimming). Winter tracks in snow at McKee Marsh, Blackwell Forest Preserve, early 1986: nearly all in trot or lope patterns (actually a bound with offset feet). Dropped to straight bound once when passing through an area of deeper (6-8″) snow.
25MY86. One observed traveling through a small, cattail-choked waterway at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. Moving, body seems to flow, even on dry land. It saw me, turned around, and after going back upstream 10 yards or so climbed back over the embankment that separated the smaller waterway from a larger marshy area.
28NO86. At Culver Fish Hatchery:
11JA87. Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, Sawmill Creek near mouth at Des Plaines River. Mink dug leopard frog up from somewhere beneath trunk of fallen tree resting on bank. Mink carried frog on a twisting path before digging hole in the 8″ snow and depositing the frog without filling hole. Frog not yet frozen, tracks very fresh. Tracks restricted to area around that tree, with many burrow-like holes entered. Mink has shelter there or else emerged from and entered river under tree roots.
21JE87. Tracks crossing muddy road at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. Photos: in first picture, left track 1.125″ long x 1.25″ wide, right 1.375 long x 1.25 wide. Stride ~13″ in bound. In second picture, front? definitely smaller, hind? aligned more with previous set. If front’s supposed to be larger, animal turned right. In drawings, #1 1.125W x 1.25L; #2 1.25W x 1.125L; #3 1.25L x 1.125W; #4 1.25W x 1.0625L.
27JE87. I was picking chickweed in a rank patch at McKee Marsh at about 9am as a mink passed. It was so buried in the chickweed I thought it was a woodchuck, but it seemed to be shaking plants less and making less noise than I would expect, and moving faster. Caught glimpse of its hindquarters and tail. Had passed within 5 feet of me as I stood still. Was moving toward woods, away from marsh, ~40m from marsh.
16JA88. In shallow snow over ice of river, mink did much bounding in travel (mostly). In bound may lead with one side so that some tight “lopes” are actually bounds. Several photos to illustrate this, after fox trot photos. Photos of mink gallop. Sets 2 feet separate, and each set well spread out (bounds on the same ice were 16-18″ apart).
17JA88. See meadow vole entry.
23JA88. McDowell Forest Preserve. Mink trail wound in and out of fence row along edge of brushy/small tree area and grassy field, with some sorties into either but no more than 10m from boundary. Once went down burrow, once apparently slid on belly. Last photo on roll shows separate front and hind feet (otherwise mainly bounding with hind feet landing on fore). FF ~1.125 x 1.125, HF ~1.5 x 1.25W. Entered and exited several more holes. Eventually went into the river. These tracks were made early last night: some in water that later froze; also, I had noticed crystals had formed in tracks, when I tried to blow snow away. Backtracking: had climbed into low (3′) crotch of large willow, crossing to the other side before jumping down. A tangle of trails where a very small stream (6″ wide) flows into river. If the mink I had followed went no farther, its evening home range included ~0.25 mile of shoreline and inland up to 100m.
I picked up another trail consistent with age of first, and followed it back inland, through logs, in and out of holes, etc., until it led to where mink had pulled out of water, on other (N) side of parking lot. Toward end, at least, mink mostly led with left side, though it sometimes led with right.
13FE88. I spotted mink tracks from U.S. 31 between S.R. 110 and Rochester, IN, got pictures. Had tunnels and slides.
15JA89. A mink at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve was dragging something, sometimes leaving only a thin mark atop the bounding set, sometimes a wider (3/4″) mark that was continuous between and over sets. The mark was on top of the tracks, therefore following them, but was on the right side while the hind feet were on the left, implying that the marks weren’t made by the tail. (See red fox 19DE89). Last month at McDowell, I found where a mink had apparently dragged something for a considerable distance, but this time the dragging was continuous and the heavy mark was more than an inch to the left of the bounding tracks. In both instances the animals were moving along the edge of a frozen lake, on the ice.
6JL90. At Hidden Lake Forest Preserve, the largest mink I’ve ever seen, moving from a perennial-old field area backed by forest into the new large marsh area.
5AU95. Red River, WI, near kayak put-in. Mink hunted along shore, on land, within 8 feet of water, moving downstream. Sniffed ground, looked into vegetation. Sometimes stopped, sometimes diagonal walked, sometimes bounded, covered 150 yards of shore before it caught a large crayfish and carried it inland. Chipmunks responded as they did to red fox at Arboretum.
8AU98. Red River, WI. Across from lunch area at first drop: beneath a group of river’s edge white cedars was an old stump with a 4″ hole. Nose of my boat touched a foot away from it, and a mink’s head appeared. I sat still and watched it for more than 3 minutes. It mostly sniffed, looked around, yawned a couple times, stepped its front legs out to sniff my boat, ducked back in a couple times.
30OC99. Dead mink, not dead too long, red blood still around mouth but no other sign of damage, on a mudflat near a stand of cattails at Fermilab. Internal injury, or self-biting during convulsions associated with illness?
21FE99. In the 3 days since the last snow, no mink tracks at McKee Marsh. Was the dead one at Fermi last fall the sign of a diseased, crashing local population?
14OC00. A mink seen at Fermilab, not far from the location of last year’s dead one. 80 yards from water, in upland old field.
31AU01. Algonquin Park, Ontario. A small one, probably an adult female, using the boardwalk of the Spruce Bog Trail, in the bog, to travel on. I was standing still, she did not notice me until 15 feet away, then turned around, went back a few steps, and got off the trail into the bog, disappearing quietly into the dense vegetation. When hunting, she sniffed frequently, and occasionally looked to the side.
20AU05. A mink and I startled one another in the early afternoon as I walked the pond in my dragonfly monitoring route at Songbird Slough. It made a brief loud squalling sound as it turned and ran away, a sound very similar to that made by a complaining juvenile raccoon.
4SE06. A mink visited my camp on the last night of my Georgian Bay sea kayak trip. I was able to get some photos.
14FE09. Fullersburg. Mink tracks are all over the preserve on the morning after a 1” fresh snow over bare ground. There appear to have been 4 individuals active last night: 2 traveling together between Sycamore Peninsula and the York Road bridge, one on and around Willow Island (on both sides of Salt Creek), and one in the west part of Butler Woods. This is in marked contrast to the rare observations of single individuals at Fullersburg over the past three years. Recovering from decimation by disease?