Although generally nocturnal, mink (Mustela vison) will venture forth during the day. Early one morning I was fortunate to find two along the levee at Big Lake (Shasta County CA). These solitary mammals have individual territories, and indeed, the two mink I observed were well separated.
Mink are native to and can be found in most areas of North America except the Southwest. Their habitat is restricted to areas where water provides fish, frogs and crayfish, as well as their favorite meat, muskrat. This cat-sized, slender carnivore will also take birds (which they usually pluck before eating), mice, and rabbits. The mink kills its prey by biting the back of the neck.
The mink’s rich, uniformly dark brown pelage with dense underfur is beautiful, of fine quality, exhibits no seasonal change and is durable, making it most desirable for commercial purposes. For this reason mink are often raised on farms. The male mink is larger than the female. Mink have a small white patch on the chin, a slightly bushy tail, and five toes on each foot with non-retractable claws. They have a musk gland that produces a strong scent that, for most people, is not as disagreeable as the scent of their relatives, the skunk and weasel. Mink spend much of their time swimming and can also climb trees.
Mink dig their den into banks. A hole about four inches in diameter leads to the nest chamber. The den has several entrances and twisting passages. The mink stores food in its den. The nest is of leaves with a feather lining, if feathers are available. Mink also will use muskrat burrows (often after killing the resident muskrat), holes in logs or other “ready-made” shelters.
Mink vocalizations include hissing, screams, barks, purrs and a chuckling sound. I originally saw the mink from a distance. Of course, by the time I got nearer the mink had disappeared. I quietly stood on the levee where I suspected the mink was hiding. Eventually I heard soft “chuckling” practically underfoot and moved a few feet away. Being a curious creature, the mink eventually popped its head out. I remained immobile and the mink finally began to move about the rocks and swim. At one point when the mink got within a foot or two of me I did move my arm. The mink hissed at me with its teeth bared and retreated, but showed no other aggressive postures. I was fortunate to hear two of its sounds.
I hope one of the mink is an impregnated female and that later in the season I can glimpse a mother with her young.
Mink will push themselves through the snow, leaving a characteristic trough, and will also slide down slopes in the snow. Like the river otter, the mink is a playful creature. I find it to be a cute little animal that is fun to watch.