- Written by Clyde McMillan-Gamber Clyde McMillan-Gamber
One sunny spring morning a few years ago, I had the thrill of seeing a beautiful, supple mink, with a mouse in its mouth, dash gracefully across a park lawn and down a woodchuck hole along the Cocalico Creek.
Seconds later, the mink popped out of that burrow and scurried into nearby woods. I stopped to see what would happen next. Within a few minutes, the mink was back with another mouse in its mouth and zipped down that chuck den.
I knew then the mink was a mother that was feeding young down that chuck hole.
For almost an hour, I watched that burrow with 16-power binoculars, from a bit of a distance so as to not frighten the mink. And in that time, she brought back five more mice and a gray squirrel that was almost as big as the mink herself.
She killed and brought back food for her offspring about once every nine minutes. I was impressed with her skill as a hunter.
Mink are members of the weasel family, and all weasels are skilled, relentless hunters. And these fierce hunters will attack prey animals as big as themselves — and larger.
A few weeks later, I was scanning a part of the Conestoga River with binoculars to see what wildlife was around. With my naked eye, I saw a dark animal swimming across the Conestoga. I thought it was a drake wood duck but looked at it with binoculars to be sure.
With the help of those field glasses, I saw the critter was not a wood duck, but a muskrat. Then I saw its furry tail protrude from the water and knew it was not a muskrat because those rodents have bare tails.
I knew then that the creature in the Conestoga was a mink swimming from one shore to the other. And by looking closer with binoculars, I saw the mink was a mother ferrying a baby about 40 yards across the river.
When she reached the other shore, she dropped her youngster among tall plants and swam back across the river to the first shore again.
While I watched through field glasses, that mother mink carried four more young mink in her mouth across the Conestoga and put them with the first one among the plants. And when all babies were safely across the river, the whole family disappeared in an instant.
Later, I read that mother mink move their youngsters from one den to another if the first nursery was disturbed by some predatory creature. Apparently, this mink’s home was disturbed, so she moved her babies to a — hopefully — safer place.
I was impressed with the first mother mink’s ability to capture ample prey animals to feed her young well. And I was equally impressed with the second mink’s stamina and determination in getting her offspring across the Conestoga River to safety.
Between the two mother mink I saw caring for their young, I conclude they, like many species of mammals and birds, work hard to raise progeny.
Clyde McMillan-Gamber is a retired Lancaster County Parks naturalist.