Reading the Lone Pine Field Guide to the Mammals of British Columbia
Weasels have an image problem: they are often described as pointy-nosed villains, and the name “weasel” is frequently used to characterize dishonest cheats.
This morning, a face at the bedroom window, a tawny curious face, with bright eyes. The weasel was stretched along a cable of trumpet-vine, as surprised to see me as I was to see it.
Despite its abundance, the Short-tailed Weasel is not commonly seen, because, like all weasels, it tends to be most active at night and inhabits areas with heavy cover.
The other morning, on the patio, darting in and out of the wood-shed, climbing the laundry stoop (as I have climbed it hundreds of time, with baskets of sheets and towels). And is this the animal I’ve heard for weeks now, at night, racing across the roof just under the eaves by my bed? Sometimes I hear mice but this wasn’t a mouse. And it was too swift for a raccoon, too grounded for an owl. The sound too loud to be a Little Brown Bat waking from its roost between the fascia boards and the wall.
Habitat: The Short-tailed Weasel is most abundant in coniferous or mixed forests and streamside woodlands. In summer, it may often be found in the alpine tundra, where it hunts on rock slides and talus slopes.
Or on homesteads on the Sechelt peninsula where it can be found on blue metal roof-tops, on trumpet vines reaching across the expanse of bedroom windows, in wood-sheds where the family barbecue waits for the next party and where some fir logs are stacked, fragrant with pitch, the bin of kindling split from cedar shakes salvaged from the old roof an occasional trap for mice and lizards.
Food: mice, voles, shrews, chipmunks, pocket gophers, pikas, rabbits, bird eggs and nestlings, insects and even amphibians. They often eat every part of a mouse except the filled stomach, which may be excised with surgical precision and left on a rock.
Three blue eggs, almost ready to hatch, from the robin nest above the beam carrying the wisteria across the patio to the porch. And, oh, where was the tree frog that usually greets me at the hot-tub in the morning, the one I’ve moved (for its own good, I tell it, knowing, even if it doesn’t, that chemicals aren’t good for creatures with such porous skins, skins needed for their respiratory processes) – moved to an old bathtub pond, moved to a trolley of verdant kitchen herbs, to a bowl of water growing scouring rush, to a collection of potted roses with damp soil. (“These weasels are quick, lithe, and unrelenting in their pursuit of anything they can overpower.”) A small green tree frog, poised on the edge of a hot-tub, its pale grey throat pulsing?
Young: In April or May, the female gives birth to 4-12 (usually 6-9) blind, helpless young that weigh just 1.8 grams each. Their eyes open at five weeks, and soon thereafter they accompany the adults on hunts. About this time, a male has typically joined the family. In addition to training the young to hunt, he impregnates the mother and all her young females, which are sexually mature at two to three months. Young males do not mature until the next February or March – a reproductive strategy that reduces interbreeding among littermates.
I remember a tiny dead weasel, left at the sun-room door many years ago, how its tail was tipped with black, and its eyes were closed, as though sleeping.