Our monthly Creek Spotlight features a particular plant or animal species that’s been active in our creeks lately. For August, we’re featuring the American mink (Neovison vison), which has been spotted recently in Santa Rosa Creek between Dutton Ave. and Stony Point Rd. Most people don't realize that this cute little semi-aquatic weasel is even a local resident. While mink are more common to the north, Sonoma County is the southernmost tip of their range. Their dense, waterproof fur was so prized for coats and hats that they were hunted into major decline until people starting farming them in the 19th century. Their populations have rebounded since then, but spotting them is still a rare and special event.
Mink are members of the mustelid family, a group of carnivorous mammals, including weasels, badgers, otters, ferrets, martens, and wolverines, among others. They are dark brown, long, and sleek in the water, and are often mistaken for the more common river otter, although they are much smaller in size, measuring 18 to 27.5 inches long. Mink and otters are the only members of the mustelid family that regularly swim and hunt in creeks. They can climb trees but have webbed feet and primarily swim for their food, which includes crayfish, amphibians, fish, mice, snakes, rabbits, and baby ducks. These hunters are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk, so if you're looking to spot them that's the best time to go. To keep cozy, mink dig dens in creek banks and line them with grass, leaves, or fur leftover from prey. They typically live alone, except during breeding season in late winter to early spring and when they have a litter of kits, which may stay with the parents learning to hunt and survive for 6 - 10 months after birth. When they're happy, mink actually purr like a cat, and they hiss when they are threatened and can even spray a foul-smelling musk for protection.
We hope you get the chance to see one out on our creeks soon!