A Bestiary: Part Six – Weasel

Looking out on the view just outside from where I am writing, I recall many encounters with wildlife that share this land I call Flower Hill Farm. These chance meetings recorded in photographs continue to morph into my Bestiary . . . tales from a wildlife habitat.

Down below a serpentine Black Cherry canopy, dramas unfold daily within the shrubberies, hummocks, fields and forest and I am certain to miss most of them. I am extremely fortunate when stepping into the right place at the exact moment another beast is moving about its day.

One day in early June, when entering the middle meadow garden, I nearly do step right onto a little beastly body. It is a mystery to me as to how this unfortunate critter comes to his or her demise and ended up in the path. That is . . .  until I catch a flash of another furry beast.

My Bestiary continues with the winsome and quick-witted weasel. I believe this particular pint-sized predator to be a female Short-tailed Weasel (Ermine) Mustela erminea. In the winter, its coat molts into an all-white, fluffy fur . . .  sadly prized by hunters . . .  during this period the tiny beast is known as an ermine or stoat. They are fascinating mammals . . . you can learn more by visiting the link above.

So, back to the tale before me . . . a dead vole lying feet up in the middle of the middle garden path . . . I stop and peered into the frozen fright and soon realize there is another character in this drama that is filled with fright as well. My presence must have terrified the weasel into dropping her prey in haste to get away. Giving the situation a second thought she considers how to reclaim her catch. It takes me a few seconds to understand and I move away from the vole . . . encouraging the weasel to come out of hiding.

Sure enough . . . my distance gives the teeny timid weasel courage to move towards the vole. The iris seedpods mark the probable area the vole was caught, for they are often found among the iris beds. Voracious eaters, voles carry on with their tunnels and destruction . . .  killing many of my treasured plants, shrubs and even trees over the years.

Weasels do not build their own dens or tunnels but often take over their prey’s domain. I will have to be more careful in closing off tunnels when I see them in future.

 Seeing how protected the weasel is by the taller grass, I am glad that mowing has ceased due to the Monarch butterflies return. Weasels have very short legs and yet they move with great agility and speed.

It seems she will reclaim her quarry now.

 Sensing my company, though farther away, she decides she would rather not. Yet, as quickly as she leaps away . . .

 She leaps back again.

This time she pluckily carries it off. I note how large the villain vole appears when held within the tiny jaws of our cherished carnivorous creature.

Weasels are very beneficial predators of gardens and fields. Voles, mice and rabbits are their preferred prey but opportunist hunters, equipped to climb, will also indulge in avian treats.

Perhaps the woodcock and other ground nesting birds have more to fear from these skilled hunters. Meaty mice, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits and voles offer more temptation in this habitat of transitional open blueberry fields between wildflower fields and forest, with plenty of streams and even a spring. I am deeply grateful for the weasels that frequent the gardens and their help in keeping a balance of pesky beasts.

The little weasel slips away and out of my view. It was another joyous encounter with a wild beast and I hope to chance upon one of these critters up close again.

I think this weasel is a male for they are much larger – twice the size of the female. Perhaps it is a different kind all together . . . there are Least Weasels (North America’s smallest carnivore without the black tipped tail) and Long-tailed Weasels here in Massachusetts. This fellow is rather far away . . . down in the blueberry field climbing up a Gray Birch. He was being chased by Catbirds.

This very faint photograph is the next day after the encounter I share above. I believe it is the same weasel and though blurred it shows the full body and tail.

There are some who think it kind to feed feral cats and that they might help with Lyme disease by hunting mice. What people fail to see sometimes is that there are other natural predators, who help maintain a balance just fine when allowed to. I once rented apartments here and sadly agreed to having a male cat move in along with his humans. I was told he was gentle and that he never killed anything. Well, the carnage here became catastrophic and the worst to suffer was the weasel. One day I found three corpses all neatly laid out in a row. Clearly the cat had gone into a den of weasels . . . he was a large cat. Before that time I never had trouble with rabbits . . . my veggie gardens flourished and we never saw ticks. Since that time rabbits are rampant as are ticks.

I do hope that the weasels are on the come back and that they will live long and prosper here at Flower Hill Farm.

© 2012, Carol Duke. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    Carol we had a weasel once who ventured into our garage…it was quite a task to calm it and show it the door….they are amazing creatures that we have never seen here at the current house…I would love to see them take care of the voles and mice. The fox, owls and hawks seem to take care of the rabbits.
    Donna@Gardens Eye View recently posted..Gardens Eye Journal-May 2012

  2. Sue Sweeney says

    wonderful thanks for sharing. If I am ever privileged enough to spot a weasel, I now know what it looks like.

    I agree that outdoors cats do a lot of damage and all cats should be kept indoors, for their own safety and that of the wildlife. An exception is a properly managed feral colony, designed manage down the wild cat population by letting the neutered (and well-fed) feral cats live out their lives while keeping new stray, dumped or feral cats out of the area. In a properly manged colony, the cats are tested for communicable diseases and vaccinated. They are also monitored for harm to neighboring wildlife, and any repeat offenders removed from the colony. Any domesticatable cats (kittens, strays, dumps etc are taken to shelter and put up for adoption.

  3. says

    This reminds me of Annie Dillard’s great “Living Like Weasels” essay:

    “The weasel was stunned into stillness as he was emerging from beneath an enormous shaggy wild rose bush four feet away. I was stunned into stillness twisted backward on the tree trunk. Our eyes locked, and someone threw away the key.

    Our look was as if two lovers, or deadly enemies, met unexpectedly on an overgrown path when each had been thinking of something else: a clearing blow to the gut. It was also a bright blow to the brain, or a sudden beating of brains, with all the charge and intimate grate of rubbed balloons. It emptied our lungs. It felled the forest, moved the fields, and drained the pond; the world dismantled and tumbled into that black hole of eyes.”

    • says

      Thanks so Sarah . . . for taking the time to share this wonderful passage from (one of my favorite writers) Annie Dillard’s essay. I once had an encounter exactly like her description . . . when a black (mink) or fisher was frozen as was I when we came face to face in between shrubs I was watering . . . “stunned into stillness” captures the feeling perfectly.
      Carol Duke recently posted..Crabapples Abloom Enticing Wildlife

  4. says

    I hope you continue to see more weasels too Carol. They’re such fascinating animals, and from what I’ve heard can be quite bold and fearless. Another great example you’ve given of the importance of weasels in the overall ecosystem and maintaining predator/prey populations. My father-in-law has one that lives in one of the farm outbuildings, and it regularly shows up to say hello when he enters.
    Heather recently posted..Orange Sulphur Butterfly Seeking Native Host Plants


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