Squirrels and a Mink, All Rodents

Today was my lucky day.  First a red squirrel chased a grey squirrel until the latter dashed into a brush heap. Then the red squirrel hid in a nearby brush heap.

Later as I drove to Nurture Nature Center, I could hardly believe my eyes but a mink, member of the weasel family, crossed the road in front of me.  I had to do a little research to affirm it was a mink.

There are four different squirrels in Pennsylvania: red, grey, fox and flying.   I’ve had two flying squirrels get into my attic where they had fallen between studs and couldn’t get out. In both cases I had to call a wildlife control person to remove them.  Fox squirrels are the biggest of the four.  I’ve not seen one yet in the area, but they may be here.

Red squirrels have not been common in the area where I live, but I noticed last summer that red squirrels were now living on an abandoned nearby farm.  Perhaps the squirrel I saw is offspring or simply has moved to new territory.

Aside from flying squirrels, the red squirrel is the smallest squirrel.  Its reddish brown coat and white belly help to identify it. It lives on conifer cone seeds , but it also dines on mushrooms, birds’ eggs and insects among other things.  Hawks, owls, grey foxes and bobcats like to catch and eat red squirrels. The Pennsylvania Game Commission says there are about 140,000 red squirrels in the state, not a dangerously low number but they are keeping track of numbers.

Grey squirrels, bigger than red squirrels, have grey backs and white bellies.  Grey squirrels are considered invasive in Europe because they displace red squirrels.  Greys eat nuts, fungi, seeds, fruits, eggs, small insects and caterpillars and even sometimes small snakes.  But grey squirrels become prey for American minks, weasels, red foxes, bobcats, red-tailed hawks and other predators.

Then the sighting of the day was the American mink. The last time I saw a mink was more than 60 years ago.  My father was cutting a path through the woods between two creeks while I played nearby.  Suddenly this lovely black furred animal darted among the rocks and disappeared.

A mink’s thick brown/black fur and thick tail with guard hairs makes for a waterproof “suit.”  Minks purr when happy, but they can also spray when threatened.  They are quite good swimmers, diving as deep as 16 feet. The mink I saw today and the one long ago would only have to go wading in the nearby creeks to find their dinner of crayfish. As carnivores they also eat frogs, shrews, mice and sometimes rabbits.

Being out and about is an opportunity to observe unexpected wildlife.  I hope you take take time this month to go outside to observe whatever crosses your path.