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Mink and Purple Martins

by Stan Tekiela
© NatureSmart

July 30, 2018

The other day I was working with my Purple Martin colony. I have 16 gourd nesting boxes which house 16 families, and at this time of year the babies are fledging (leaving the nest for the first time). Earlier in the day I had picked up one baby martin that was on the ground and put them back into the nest. Having baby martins on the ground for a day or two is perfectly normal. In fact for many species of bird it’s normal for the young to spend at least one day on the ground before being strong enough to fly up into a tree. However I was concerned for my baby martin that a predator might come along so I put him back in the nest.

Later in the day, two more baby martins were in my lawn. The parents were swooping down to feed them. Their young mouths gapping wide-open to accept the insect meals. At this stage of life the parents are bringing in large insects such as dragonflies. They stuff these huge dragonflies inside the tiny mouth of the baby martins and they eagerly swallow them down. Often times you can see the wings of the dragonfly hanging out of their mouths even after they have swallowed. 

I have installed a small color video camera complete with sound inside one of the martin gourds and so I’ve been monitoring them since the parents first constructed the nest and laid the eggs. At first the parents bring in tiny insects to feed their blind and naked babies. But as the baby martins grow they start feeding larger and larger insects and now they are up to the big insects such as dragonflies.

Purple Martins are the largest species of swallow in North America. At one time in history they use to nest in pairs in tree cavities. Due to decreased nest opportunities people put up nesting apartments for martins and have totally changed the way they nested. It is now estimated that west of the Mississippi River nearly all martins nest in some kind of man-made cavity such as metal houses, wooden houses or in my case, plastic gourds. They don’t nest in natural cavities anymore.

It’s a pleasure to host these magnificent birds in my yard and I really do enjoy seeing and hearing them every day. So when the young leave the nest, I feel like an over-protective father. So sure enough while I was watching my Martins a Mink came running down the shoreline heading right for the base of my Martin houses.

I grabbed my camera to see if I could capture some images of this predator in action. It was fun to watch this Mink, which turned out to be a female, run right up to the metal pole that holds up my Martin colony and try to climb it. Thank goodness I have a metal predator guard to stop this very thing from happening. So here we were, in the middle of the day, in broad-daylight, with a Mink running around following its nose trying to locate something to eat.

It would point its nose up in the air and sniff around and then chase off after something it smelled. At one point it was running through my lawn. I was capturing images of this energetic critter when it started running straight for me. I was sitting down in the grass trying to get a better camera angle and it approached within 10 feet before deciding I might be too large to have for lunch.

It turned and returned to the base of the Martin colony. Some of the adult Martins gave alarm calls and even swooped down after the Mink. Obviously the Martins knew that the Mink was a threat to them and their babies.

At one point the frustrated Mink ran over to a large maple tree about 30 feet away and climbed right up the tree just like a squirrel. No hesitation at all, just straight up the tree. No doubt the Mink was thinking there might be a way to reach the Martin colony and the babies from the tree but no such luck.

The Mink scampered right back down the tree and once again over to the base of the martin colonies. I was busy capturing images of this super-fast critter. A couple times the mink stopped to sniff the air, standing on its hind legs to sniff about. This was when I captured my most favorite images and also when I could see that this was a female Mink. No doubt she was feeding young mink back in her den and was actively searching for something to eat. Everything needs to eat, including the predators. Until next time…

Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and capture images of wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook.com and twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com   

Photo by Stan Tekiela

The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.

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