15 Feb
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Exploring the Mink Mind


Mink photographed in Tiverton, RI by Butch Lombardi. Used with permission.

Mink photographed in Tiverton, RI by Butch Lombardi. Used with permission.

Outdoor encounters are sometimes so quick that there is barely time to think, “Was that a – ?” before it’s gone. By the time the brain catches up, the animal vanishes. Birders are perhaps more familiar with this phenomenon than most, but sometimes other species manifest themselves in the same way.

The pickings of bird sightings at Trustom Pond, one of the best birding locations in the state, had been uncharacteristically slim on a recent day. At this time of year, the majority of bird action is off the points that overlook Trustom Pond, a salt water body that attracts sea ducks from the far north that over winter in the relative mildness of Rhode Island. The visit to Osprey Point had been unproductive, and the return to the mainland was via a narrow trail bordered by brushy banks leading down to the water.

Ten yards up the trail, a long, dark brown creature popped up from the bank. In the moment that it took to register what the animal was (and to kick myself for scaring it off with my heavy footsteps), it had skittered back down the bank. It was an American mink, and I had pretty much missed it. Or so it seemed. (To borrow the worn turn of phrase known as “click-bait”, “What would happen next will BLOW YOUR MIND”.)

Charles Brown, Wildlife Biologist for Rhode Island’s DEM, says that for all their elusiveness, Neovison vison are doing quite well. “Mink are far more common than people think. If you consider how often you’re outside, to have this be the only time you’ve seen one shows how rarely they’re spotted. But they are common throughout state. They live in freshwater marshes, near streams, ponds, and along coastal areas, like salt marshes and rocky shores. I’ve seen them along Ocean Drive in Newport. Basically they can be anywhere the water is good enough to support their prey.” American mink will dine on crayfish, frogs, or small fish; their diet is similar in salt water, where they feed on fish or crustaceans. They like the flavor of mice or voles, said Brown.

I took the next few steps quietly, in what I was sure was a vain attempt to catch a glimpse of the two-foot long blackish brown animal before it vanished. Nearing the spot, I looked down the bank where, to my surprise, I saw the small head capped with tiny ears looking up at me. In an instant, the mink began to scramble back up the bank toward me. What made the sight even more shocking was that it was being chased by a second mink! The first crossed the trail within a foot of where I was standing slack jawed. It paused, looked up at me, and ran down the opposite bank. The companion did the same a moment later.

Mink photo by Butch Lombardi.

Mink photo by Butch Lombardi.

They disappeared, but what next drew my attention to them was not sight, but sound. I heard a ferocious screeching and tussling sound, and turned to see the pair in a ball of snarling fur. Was this a mating encounter? Rough play between siblings? A territorial disagreement? “That’s hard to say,” said Brown. “Normally the males are about half again the size of the females (about two pounds). I’ve seen siblings run together, but that usually happens in the fall. Sometimes we do see siblings sort of hanging around together later than that, though.” This pair seemed roughly the same size.

Mink are normally solitary animals. The only times they are accompanied by another is either when they are mating or when two siblings are growing together. When they do mate, mink will often delay implantation of the sperm until a later date. (Little brown bats, while not related to mink, display the same pattern; they mate in late fall, but gestation does not begin until spring.) Gestation lasts around 50 days, when the female gives birth to four or five young.

It’s impossible to say why the pair decided to come so close, rather than keep their distance from this human towering six feet above them. Photographer Butch Lombardi, in responding to my Facebook post about the encounter, posted a shot of a mink he had taken several years earlier in Tiverton. “He was pretty cooperative. I kept waiting for him to bolt, but he kept coming toward me. I had to zoom in because he was getting so close. He’d stop and do this looking as if to say, ‘What’s that?’”

Regardless of motivation, DEM’s Charles Brown says that there is no need to fear close encounters of the mink kind: “I’ve never heard of a situation where someone had a run-in with mink at any time of year. The largest male mink weighs like two pounds; they’re not going to readily engage in anything with a dog or human.”

Whatever may have been going through their heads, what was going through mine was that I had just had a moment that very few people, even those who spend hundreds of hours outdoors, ever have.

See more of  Butch Lombardi’s photography at http://eastbayimages.zenfolio.com/.


  • I have see a weasel or whatever 2x this year here at Manns Pond on Billings St.Sharon, MA. Tried to ID it w/o success but he he looked exactly like your American mink.

    • Hi Debby,
      Weasels, while part of the mustelid family that includes beavers and mink, are much smaller than mink. They’re closer to 6 -8″, whereas mink are closer to two feet. Plus, weasels are usually white from chin to belly, where mink usually just have a bit of white below their chin. Thanks for writing, and let me know if you see it again!

  • I once knew an environmental officer, years ago, who found a baby weasel in Weekapaug, R.I. He reached down and picked it up (big mistake) because Momma weasel ran out from some nearby bushes, ran up the officer’s leg and bit him in the neck. He dropped the baby and both weasels disappeared into the bushes. Lesson learned, don’t touch a weasel 🙂 Great article, Hugh!

    • Never get between a momma and her baby! Thanks, Vivian!

  • Within the last five years (sorry I don’t remember when) I was walking with my twins at Deerfield Park in Smithfield. Rounding a corner we saw a little brown head pop out of a storm drain. It disappeared and came back up. It was very entertaining and exciting to see what I believed was a weasel. After reading this I realize it must have been after the frogs and toads in the vernal pond. I try to walk my dog daily in Johnston, and have seen an otter in the pond at Cricket Field, foxes in Deerfield Park, deer around Highland Park Cemetery, even a coyote on the Stillwater Scenic Trail. I make sure I keep some rocks in my pockets in case one may want to eat my dachshund.

    • Thanks for writing, Megan! Although it’s unlikely that mink or weasel would tangle with any dog, it’s not a bad idea to have a walking stick with you in areas where you’ve seen coyote. The most important precaution is to keep it on a leash. For the most part, even coyotes will shy away from a person.

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