Warren Burgess frequently mountain bikes in Curt Gowdy State Park, but he’s glad he decided to go hiking instead earlier this week. If he’d been whizzing around on his bike, Burgess likely would have missed a one-and-a-million close encounter with a Wyoming mink.
The fearsome little critter was proudly dragging its next meal, a rabbit carcass, across a frozen stretch of Crow Creek in the park.
“I just happened to see some movement out there on the ice,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “And when I realized what it was, I thought it looked pretty cool, so I took some video of it.”
History With Ferrets
Burgess, who lives in Cheyenne, isn’t unfamiliar with mustelids, or members of the weasel family.
After graduating from the University of Wyoming in 1988 with a degree in wildlife management, he went to work for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. He helped with the recovery of black-footed ferrets.
The ferrets, which prey upon prairie dogs, had all but disappeared from Wyoming and efforts were underway to restore their population here.
“I actually saw and handled the original black-footed ferrets that they brought in,” he said.
He helped care for the ferrets while they were at UW, and then later when they were taken out to the Sybille Canyon area northeast of Laramie.
Burgess left Game and Fish to go to work as a cybersecurity specialist for the Wyoming Army National Guard, a career from which he recently retired. But he never lost his fascination for wildlife.
Weasel, Marten, Fisher Or Mink?
Wyoming is home to numerous members of the weasel family. The biggest and meanest are the elusive wolverines.
When Burgess saw the mink out on the ice this week, he knew for sure that it wasn’t a wolverine, so he started running through the smaller species in his head.
“I didn’t see the white belly, so I knew it couldn’t be at least weasel,” he said.
Other possibilities in the weasel family included a marten or a fisher. (He checked later and discovered that fishers don’t live in that part of Wyoming.)
“Then I realized it was a mink,” Burgess said. “They are smaller than I thought they were. I guess I was thinking of the fur minks that you see at the domestic fur farms. Our wild ones are quite a bit smaller.”
In the video he caught, the mink doesn’t seem bothered by a human’s presence. It’s far too busy with the cottontail carcass – likely trying to get it to a safe spot for a feast.
Did He Kill It Or Find It?
Mink in Wyoming tend to stay near water and like to eat fish, crayfish, some insects and small rodents, according to Game and Fish.
They will occasionally venture out into dry areas to hunt larger prey, such as rabbits.
Burgess said he’s not sure whether the mink he saw had killed the cottontail it had clutched in its jaws or had simply gotten lucky and found the carcass.
“If you look closely in the video, the rabbit looks stiff, like it had been dead for a while. So I think the mink might have found it and picked it up,” he said.
A Lucky Sight
Burgess said he plans to continue going to Curt Gowdy to hike and cycle, and hopes he keeps seeing wildlife.
Spotting a mink in action was a rare treat, so although he was delighted to catch footage of the mink dragging its dinner home, he knows the odds are long he’ll see such a thing again anytime soon.
“It was just incredibly good timing to get to see that,” he said.
Mark Heinz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.