Plants and Animals
Several years ago, while photographing belted kingfishers in St. Louis’ Forest Park, I discovered a mink den. Often, one of the busy little creatures would swim across the creek and land at my feet, where it would study me with great curiosity as I sat motionless in my hide among the weeds. I rarely captured an image because they usually emerged too close for my telephoto lens. By the end of the summer, I finished my kingfisher project and began making plans for the following spring when my focus at the site would be mink (Mustela vison).
By spring of the following year I began thinking about minks again, and I consulted my Department of Conservation Natural Events Calendar to determine when I could expect maximum mink activity. I began making regular trips to the site in May and saw the minks almost immediately as they tended to the needs of their new kits. Mink are nocturnal, so I was always in my hide before daylight, hoping to catch them extending their crayfish hunts a little past sunrise. As the summer progressed, the minks accepted me as a non-threatening part of their environment, oblivious to the furtive glances of my lens and the unnatural clicks of my shutter.
If you ever observe a mink in the wild, the first thing you will notice is that it rarely stops moving. A little longer than 2 feet from nose to tail, and weighing less than 3 pounds, minks are bursting with energy. They are always on a mission, usually involving food acquisition, and they seldom frolic and play like river otters. Mink are a rich brown in color with a white throat patch and a bushy tail. Their feet, which are partially webbed, are impressive in size as compared to the rest of their body.
Minks live near permanent water along streams, lakes, ponds, and wetlands. They make their dens in a variety of places, including tree roots, bank cavities, logs, and stumps. Mating occurs in late winter and young are born in spring. I began seeing the kits running with their parents by mid-July. Minks feed on a variety of prey including crayfish, fish, rabbits, and mice. One of the first things I noticed about their feeding style is that as soon as they catch their prey they make a dead run back to the den. I’ve never seen a mink eating its prey in the open. Minks are considered common in Missouri, where good habitat exists. Their harvest as furbearers is regulated.
As the summer progressed, I had many encounters with the family of minks. As had happened the year before, individuals often approached very close to inspect me and my equipment, sniffing nonstop. On more than one occasion, a busy mink would run right across my feet before it finally turned to look back at me from a fair distance. It was during those moments that I made my best images, capturing the inquisitive facial expressions of these beautiful, urban mammals.
—Story and photograph by Danny Brown
We help people discover nature through our online field guide. Visit mdc.mo.gov/node/73 to learn more about Missouri’s plants and animals.