On our excursion into the Minnesota north woods this week, we were directed to a particular feeder in Sax-Zim bog where many people had seen Great Gray Owls. Unfortunately, we were too late (it was mid-day by the time we got there), but there was another visitor to the feeder that made this stop entirely worthwhile.
A Pine Marten was investigating the snow beneath the feeder for treats. Martens are members of the weasel family, but with their short noses and rounded ears, their overall cuteness and handsome fur coat make up for their reputed nasty temper and feisty disposition.
A thick chestnut coat helpsMartens adapt well to winter cold, but they typically reduce their activity markedly when the weather is extremely cold. Then they might build a warm nest in a tangle of tree roots to wait out the bad weather.
In the winter, Pine Martens hunt for a variety of small mammals (voles, mice, shrews) under the snow, and will supplement their diet with small birds that are coming to feeders. In Minnesota, Pine Martens range over a 6 square mile territory to supply themselves with enough food throughout the year. They need to eat the equivalent of about 3 mice per day.
But the best treats in this particular area weren’t on the ground, they were on the feeder posts themselves.
This Marten knows from experience that bird photographers come here and smear peanut butter all over the logs that support the feeders in hopes of attracting some of the local avifauna closer to their camera lenses.
An easy climb with those sharp toenails digging into the wooden post, and peanut butter is within easy reach.
That long pink tongue gets the job done.
Yes, that was a very satisfying meal.
Martens have been on the decline in North America, primarily due to loss of their favored coniferous forest habitat, but they seem to be doing well in northern Minnesota, rebounding from near extinction in the 1950s to a population over 10,000 animals in 2001. How fortunate that this little animal was making the rounds of the bird feeders when we happened by.
Who knew they liked peanut butter? Nice photos.
well they probably enjoy the mice and birds that come for the peanut butter more. That’s probably why the Great Gray owl hangs out there, hoping to bag a mouse or two.
Wow. Really cool shots of an animal that I would have been hard pressed to identify. The marten seemed to be so focused on the peanut butter that it seemed to tolerate your presence pretty well and let you get some wonderful action shots.
Apparently the trick is not to get out of the car. The animals are used to car traffic on the dirt roads and will carry on with their daily tasks while you sit and watch.
He’s a cutie. I’m surprised he hung around for so many pictures. Is he used to seeing people?
Most of the animals seem “tame” in this North Woods area, by comparison with those in urban and suburban areas. I guess it’s probably their less frequent contact with humans, and they seem to have learned that cars are not threatening. And yes, I think the Marten does hang around the feeder for extended periods, because of all the good things it finds there.
What a great post and terrific photos – yes, a very worthwhile trip;)
Thanks! I wonder if I could stumble on such a fantastic scene again, even if I went to the same place. You know — right time, right place, and all that.
Much as I love owls, seeing a pine marten would have been worth venturing out into into your freezing weather! Amelia
So true. I am not a fan of this freezing cold, but this sort of photo op and real-time viewing of a pretty rare creature (for me) made the cold tolerable. That said, the next day I put on even more layers of warmth and finally got to an equilibrium with the cold.
What a fantastic spotting! Very interesting behaviors.
It makes you want to stick around in the freezing cold for just a little longer, to get that even better photo. Thanks for your comment.
I have never even heard of a Marten, but he is adorable. What fun to get to take his photo.
Yes, indeed. That’s the best part of going to new places, new wildlife photo ops!
Great shots of a rarely seen animal!
Thanks, Allen. We were enchanted watching its activity for several minutes.
An amazing set of images