The mink’s telltale signs

Country Sights and Sounds
“A mink will leave telltale droppings in prominent places to warn others that he is in residence, that he is strong, fit and healthy, and that he will take firm action”

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley


IT’S a funny thing, this spring. The wild creatures hardly know which end is up. The magpies made a start at their nests, as did the rooks in the rookery, but both these early nesting species have had second thoughts and abandoned their homemaking for the present time.
Even the daffodils, after promising much, are in a state of semi-hibernation. Cultivated varieties are poised, some with swollen buds caught in mid-droop, while wild narcissus (in the few English woodlands where these can still be found) are frozen into immobility, their slender, spear-like flower stalks just a few inches tall.
Elsewhere, there are problems in the offing. Take the hazel bushes, for example. These are an essential source of food for mice, squirrels, and sundry others. The hazel responded well to the early sunshine, swelling buds and producing an abundance of the male flowers we affectionately refer to as ‘lamb’s tails’. But then came that pinching frost to curtail their development.
Now the intermittent warmth draws the sap into these, filling them to completeness, stretching them to maturity. Some already cast showers of golden pollen to the breeze but it is going to waste, for the female flowers are far from ready. These look hardly like flowers at all; they are small and insignificant, pale green rosettes of leaf-like petals. They are shut fast against the cold nights, and the pollen grains that brush over them drift onward and away. We need two or three warm days to restore some equilibrium. Then we shall have our nut harvest after all.
If we do not, the wood mice will suffer. A good store of nuts will keep them breeding much later in the season and they, in turn, will provide an abundance for other creatures higher in the food chain.
But take away the nut crop and mouse reproduction comes to an early stop. It is then that the bolder predators turn their attention to the chicken run. And once they get the taste there is little that can be done to stop them, apart from the snare and the shotgun. Even these extreme measures are rather less effective than might be supposed.
I had the case of the mink well explained to me. A mature mink will hold quite a large territory, as large, in fact, as he is able to properly defend. He will scent mark the boundaries and leave telltale droppings in prominent places to warn others of his kind that he is in residence, that he is strong, fit and healthy, and that he will take firm action to oppose any trespass. Immature and lesser specimens will respect him and keep out of his way. But suppose he is trapped? What happens then?
Two or even three of these lesser individuals will divide his empire among themselves. Resources are instantly more strained, there being a greater demand for food, and the poultry find themselves in a much-worsened plight, with the prospect of nocturnal visitors from the woodlands doubled or tripled. Far better that a few dominant predators are managed than that a greater number of equally hungry animals be accommodated.
Renegade mink are difficult to deal with. They are fearless and determined. The prosperity of last autumn kept their larder well stocked, but now the cold will be adding an edge to their appetite.
But each day the sun climbs that bit higher and the land softens under its gaze. The hazel may yet crop and, who knows, we may yet find our wild daffodils beneath the coppiced wood.