Mink are part of the mustelid family of animals, which includes; otters, stoats, weasels, badgers and pine martens. Mink are often mistaken for an otter since they both inhabit similar semi-aquatic habitat and have a similar lifestyle. However, unlike their other mustelid relatives, mink are a non-native and highly invasive species in Europe.
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MANKIND – NATURES WORST ENEMY?
They were first introduced in the U.K., half-way through the 20th century when many managed to escape from fur farms. Further, animal rights activists released hundreds more, as they believed that the farming of these animals was cruel and unethical. Unfortunately their illegal actions lead to the devastation of many of our native birds as well as mammals. Mink were reported to be breeding in the wild in the late 1950s, and by the end of the 1960s they had even found their way into Scotlands Outer Hebrides.
Mink have a tendency to kill prey on sight, whether or not they intend to eat it. Many native animals such as corncrakes and water voles stood no chance, and their numbers were decimated to the point of these particular animals being classed as endangered species.
Mink are efficient hunters, and are equally at home hunting in trees, on the land, and in the water. They hunt and eat birds eggs as well as the birds themselves. Waders and river birds such as goldeneye, moorhen are particularly vulnerable, as well as inland birds such as curlew, lapwing and the aforementioned corncrake. Even nesting seabird colonies such as terns are targets for the mink. As well as birds, they hunt and kill small mammals and like their cousin the otter, as adept swimmers, can even tackle fish, shellfish, amphibians and crustacians.
Mink favor areas with slow moving fresh water such as lochs, streams, rivers etc. They also thrive in coastal areas, where there are estuaries and rock pool systems. Mink tend not to burrow their own nests, more commonly they will colonize already established environments such as rock formations, holes in trees etc. Their burrows are always positioned close to a body of water.
Distribution (shown in green highlight) is a rough illustration based on UKG officially recorded sightings data from the year 2005.
SIZE & APPEARANCE
Adult males range between 800 to 1500g, females are typically 500 to 800g. Their total length is up to 55cm (head and body 37cm, tail 18cm). Their gate is similar to that of otters, which is why they are often mistaken for this species. However, in reality mink are significantly smaller than an otter with a thinner face more pointed nose.
Mink are generally solitary in nature, although territories can overlap resulting in territorial disputes amongst males; particularly during mating season. Breeding once a year between February and April, with cubs (or kits) being born around 1 to 2 months after breeding; whereby the female can delay birth by up to 6 weeks based on environmental factors such as food supply and weather. A litter is typically between 3 to 7 cubs which are born blind and furless. Cubs are fully independent after around 14 weeks and reach sexual maturity after a year.
Average 10-12 years in the wild.
Mink have no natural predators in the UK or Europe,
WHERE TO PHOTOGRAPH
As a non-native species, and as a consequence of its devastating impact on the UKs native wildlife, there is no short-cut to spotting mink, other than to do the ground work to determine their likely territories. As indicated above, they need a water source, and you may be able to spot their distinctive spraints on rocks, tree stumps etc. You may also be able to detect their distinctive odor which is left as a territorial scent mark from a gland under their tail. Here in Scotland, I have spotted them in the Highlands as well as managing to photograph them in the Hebrides.
CAMERA & SETTINGS
Mink are fast moving and have an excellent sense of their environment. It is likely therefore that they will spot you long before you spot them. Something longer than 400mm telephoto length is therefore beneficial. In the photographs in this article, I used my Canon EF100-400 USM and Canon EOS 5D IV with an added Canon EF 1.4x teleconverter to get additional reach.
Many wildlife photographers favor shooting in AV mode and allowing the camera to select the fastest speed available. Due to the typical lower light in Scotland, I typically use speed priority to ensure I capture the action of the animal I am photographing. This typically leads to the need for higher ISOs, but I deal with this post-processing to eliminate any additional ISO noise. I also tend to use Auto-Focus and on AI Servo so that I can continuously track movement. Many people use. center-point focus, I have found I get a better success rate using an expanded center point.
SPOT IT REPORT IT!
Whilst mink undoubtedly look cute and cuddly, they do not have many supporters in the UK due to the catastrophic impact they have had on biodiversity. Therefore, if you do spot mink, it is recommended that you also report the sighting to the appropriate authority. In the U.K. this can be done through the INNS Mapper website and/or if you are in Scotland on the official Scotland Environment website.
Note that, if mink come into your care, under U.K. law, they must be humanely euthanised.
Distribution: JNCC Data