Gateway to the Classics: Squirrels and Other Fur-Bearers by John Burroughs
Squirrels and Other Fur-Bearers by  John Burroughs

The Mink

In walking through the woods one day in early winter, we read upon the newly fallen snow the record of a mink's fright the night before. The mink had been traveling through the woods post-haste, not along the watercourses where one sees them by day, but over ridges and across valleys. We followed his track some distance to see what adventures he had met with. We tracked him through a bushy swamp, and saw where he had left it to explore a pile of rocks, then where he had taken to the swamp again, and where he had entered the more open woods. Presently the track turned sharply about, and doubled upon itself in long hurried strides. What had caused the mink to change his mind so suddenly? We explored a few paces ahead, and came upon a fox track. The mink had probably seen the fox stalking stealthily through the woods, and the sight had doubtless brought his heart into his mouth. I think he climbed a tree, and waited till the fox had passed. His track disappeared amid a clump of hemlocks, and then reappeared again a little beyond them. It described a big loop around, and then crossed the fox track only a few yards from the point where its course was interrupted. Then it followed a little watercourse, went under a rude ridge in a wood-road, then mingled with squirrel tracks in a denser part of the thicket. If the mink met a muskrat or a rabbit in his travels, or came upon a grouse, or quail, or a farmer's henroost, he had the supper he was in quest of.



I followed a mink's track one morning upon the snow till I found where the prowler had overtaken and killed a muskrat by a stone wall near a little stream. The blood upon the snow and the half-devoured body of the rat told the whole story. The mink was very fond of muskrats, and trappers often use this flesh to bait their traps. I wonder if he has learned to enter the under-water hole to the muskrat's den, and then seek him in his chamber above, where the poor rat would have little chance to escape.

The mink is only a larger weasel, and has much of the boldness and bloodthirstiness of that animal. One summer day my dog Lark and I were sitting beside a small watercourse in the woods, when I saw a mink coming up the stream towards us. I sat motionless till the mink was within a few feet of us, when the dog saw him. As the dog sprang, the mink darted under a large flat stone. Lark was very fierce, and seemed to say to me, "Just lift up that stone and I will show you my way with minks." This I quickly did, and the dog sprang for the game, but he as quickly withdrew with a cry of pain as if he had touched something red-hot. The mink had got in the first blow or bite, and then effected his escape between my feet and the dog's, as if he had vanished in the air. Where he went to was a mystery. There was no hole; no depth of water; no hiding-place anywhere that I could discover or that the dog could discover, and yet the mink had disappeared. It was like some conjurer's trick.

Minks are fond of fish, and can capture them in the water. This makes them very destructive along small trout streams and ponds. I once saw a trout with an ugly gash in its side, which was doubtless the work of a mink. With a friend, I once had a camp by a trout stream in the Catskills that we named "Mink Camp," by reason of the number of minks that came every night as soon as it was dark, to devour the fish-heads and entrails that we threw over on the opposite bank. We could often hear them disputing over the spoils, and in the dim light of the camp-fire could sometimes see them.

You may know the mink's track upon the snow from those of the squirrels at once. In the squirrel-track the prints of the large hind feet are ahead, and the prints of the smaller fore feet just behind them, as in the case of the rabbit. The mink, in running, usually plants his hind feet exactly upon the track of his fore feet, and closer together than the squirrel, so that his trail upon the snow is something like this:—


The squirrel's track, as well as those of the rabbit and the white-footed mouse, is in form like this:—


One winter day I had a good view of a mink running upon the snow and ice along the edge of a stream. He had seen or heard me, and was making a little extra speed. He bounded along with his back much arched, and in a curiously stiff and mechanical sort of way, with none of the grace and ease of the squirrel. He leaped high, and cleared about two and a half feet at a bound.

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