I'M NOT superstitious by nature but the notion that a black cat crossing one's path is a sign of impending good luck sprang to mind for some inexplicable reason when a coal black American Mink leisurely crossed my path. Cat-like in its motion the animal purposefully crossed the laneway in front of me without casting me a glance or quickening its gait. It disappeared into the ditch so effortlessly that I had to do a double take on the track of its crossing.
An American Mink is about the size of a small cat but has a long body, a small head, very short legs and a long bushy tail. Most are uniformly dark brown or black in colour with a white patch under the chin. These white patches are very variable in size and can consequently be used to distinguish one individual from another.
Their feet are partially webbed for swimming so the animals are semi-aquatic. And since they are not fussy feeders they will exploit whatever may be available. This non-specialist approach to feeding is one of the keys to their success in the wild. Our stock of these aliens from Canada and northern USA originated during the 1950s from escapes and releases from fur farms where they were reared for commercial pelt production.
When the animals found themselves in the wild some of them used their partially webbed feet to hunt underwater. Others climbed trees and raided birds' nests for eggs and chicks. Yet others hunted on land for beetles and other insects. More explored burrows to prey on the young of rabbits, rats and mice.
Being generalist rather than specialist feeders, feral Mink were able to exploit a wide range of food sources resulting in them surviving and spreading in the wild. Their droppings are called ' scats' and by identifying remains of fur, feathers and bones in the scats scientists can get insights into their diet.
In areas of the Midlands where the Freshwater Crayfish is common, that one crustacean can form as much as two-thirds of the Mink's diet. Otherwise, slow-swimming fish like Eels and Perch and water birds like the Coot and Moorhen are major food sources.
Domestic fowl were not found to be a major element of their diet and rumours of them killing larger animals was not borne out by the evidence of what was found in scats.