The Great Outdoors


A mink bounded across the road in front of my older daughter and plunged into the marsh at the edge of our pasture a few days ago. My daughter was walking along the side of the road with our dogs when the mink crossed their path.

I haven’t seen a mink in years. I haven’t even thought of a mink. I used to see one occasionally when I went wandering out of town along the river that ran through town, wandering through the woods and fields. But that was many years ago, when I was a boy.

A couple of school friends trapped and often told me what they had caught. I don’t believe they ever failed to tell me when they had caught a mink. They got paid more for a mink skin than any other.

To us, another measure of the value of mink skins was a fur coat made of mink. A mink coat was evidence of wealth. It was the most expensive coat a lady could have.

I didn’t really know much about mink. For example, I thought they were bigger than they are, about as big as a collie or other medium-sized dog. I just read, however, that a mink is about the size of a woodchuck. Additionally I didn’t know a male mink is bigger than a female. A male is about a foot and a half long, a female is only about a foot. That’s the length of body. The tail adds another ten inches.

The fur of a mink, of most mink, is dense dark brown. Some, however, are grayish-brown on the underside of the body and the tail.
The mink my daughter saw was carrying something. My daughter couldn’t see what the mink was carrying but she said it looked nearly as big as the mink.

Mink are described as carnivores in my reference books but omnivore seems more appropriate. They kill and eat many small mammals but they also kill and eat birds, frogs, fish, and crayfish and they eat eggs. Mink sometimes raid chicken houses where they kill and eat chickens and the chicken eggs.

Mink take shelter in holes in the banks of streams and rivers. There they mate and there the females have and raise their broods without any help from the males which desert the females and wander away after they mate.
Mating is in spring and the young are born in April or May. Broods are from two to six. Since seeing the mink, I wonder, was it a female taking food to a brood in a hole in the bank somewhere around our marsh? It doesn’t seem likely to me. There are no steep banks around our marsh, no place for dens in a bank. It’s a cattail marsh, surrounded by shallow, sloping shores.

Our marsh is a place where red-winged blackbirds were common, abundant, in spring and summer, and muskrats and muskrat houses were common year-round. Red-winged blackbirds are still common in spring and summer. Yellowthroats and other birds nest in the cattails. A couple pairs of green herons nest in the branches of the willow trees that surround the marsh. Downy and hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers chisel out and nest in holes in the trees and many tree swallows nest in holes the woodpecker have deserted.

The muskrats are gone and so, too, are most of their houses. A pair of mute swans nests in the cattail every summer and stay in the marsh except when it freezes over. I used to see a sora once in a while but I haven’t seen a sora in our marsh now in several years. A yellow-headed blackbird landed in the cattails of our marsh once and bird watchers, hearing of this rare visitor, flocked to see it.

Was the mink another rare visitor?

Neil A. Case

Neil A. Case

I have always liked the outdoors and birds and am a conservationist and an environmentalist. I don't write specifically about conservation but mix my opinion in with stories about a bird, a mammal, a plant or other outdoor subject. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer