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.