Weasels, the Coolest Animals to Rehab!

WeaselLong-tailed weasel, short -tailed weasel, Least Weasel, mink, otter, fisher, martin are just a few of the members of the weasel family found in North America. The family name, Mustelidae, is based on the Latin word for “weasel”.  Anyone who has had the pleasure of raising one of these animals will quickly tell you that they are the coolest animals to raise.

Weasels are usually  born in April or May in underground dens, and it is pretty much a given that any infant of a burrowing or tunneling species found above ground is in trouble and should be taken to a rehabilitator.  The long , skinny neck  is usually a give-away to the fact that one has a weasel, but it can often be difficult to determine what species one has until at least a couple weeks old. But, determining the species of weasel really doesn’t matter when it comes to the care needed, as they are all cared for the same.

WeaselBaby weasels are interesting in many ways, and the fact that I find most interesting is that their eyes don’t open for 26 days.  I am used to fox pups whose eyes are open by two weeks of age. When their eyes open, they are eating soft solid food.  However, weasels are eating solid food WELL BEFORE their eyes open.  One of my pet peeves are rehabilitators who bottle feed animals well past the time that they should. I observed a scrapbook recently that a rehabilitator was using for public display. While flipping through the pages, I saw a nearly adult-sized fully furred, eyes open “baby” weasel” drinking formula from a bottle. EEK! I thought. Surely one must have a better feel for mammals than that?  Eyes still closed and baby fur still on, offer some canned cat food and watch the baby chow down. I always mix the formula with a product called ‘Missing Link for Cats” It comes in a gold foil pouch and is sold through catalogs and outlets, including PetSmart.  Weasels need a basic diet like a cat, not a dog.  I strongly believe that a balanced diet is more easily obtained by feeding a canned and dry cat food that has been manufactures to provide cats with a balanced diet.  The Missing Link should be added to all foods, including the formula.  Feeding just mice is not a balanced diet, as wildlife eats such a variety of things that a single source of food simply doesn’t provide .  Small, dead mice should certainly be offered to young baby weasels (and young fox pups), but only as an enrichment, a prey-identification tool, not as a diet. When raised in captivity, animals simply do not have access to the dirt, insects, minerals, and grasses that they do in the wild.  A diet of dead or live mice and chicks is simply inadequate

Since weasels have such an incredibly fast metabolism, it is advisable to feed them every hour, right around the clock until they are at least 2 weeks old.  I feed a mix of formula, canned cat food, Missing Link for Cats and Pedialyte to help with hydration. I thicken the formula as they show preference for chunks of solid food.  When they are three weeks old, I feed them every three hours. I will also give small chunks of chicken or venison.

WeaselEven before their eyes are open, I am sure to have them in natural surroundings, with leaves, clumps of grasses, rocks and logs.  Of course there is an area that provides warmth and snuggle space. By five weeks old, baby weasels are weaned in the wild – but I find that they are off the milk formula before that in my care, and on to canned cat food, dry cat food, meat, mice.

Here is an interesting fact… Females can conceived while they are still in the nest and their eyes and ears are still closed.  By the time they leave their nest, many females are already pregnant. Weasels generally mate in July or August, but the young are not born until the following April or May. The total gestation is roughly 279 days. The young are not actually developing during this period though.  The embryos undergo an initial development of about two weeks, then remain free in the uterus, dormant  until April or May when they are implanted 23 to 24 days before birth.  There are usually 5-8 blind, toothless, pink and naked young.

WeaselThe most common predators of weasels are man, cats, dogs, owls, foxes, hawks and snakes.  Weasels are very susceptible to distemper and it is advisable to vaccinate them with a safe vaccine, such as PUREVAX, a canary vector vaccine made by Merial.  Any other distemper vaccines give to animals especially prone to distemper can actually cause them to come down with the disease.  PUREVAX is a new vaccine that has proved safe in wild animals.

Wood Thrushes are back!

Ahh.  The ethereal sound of the Wood Thrush.  Hylocichla mustelina. Ee-o-lay!  My favorite bird song,  and this morning, May 2, 2006,  they are back. This is the first morning that I have heard this plain brown bird with the flute-like voice and the rusty head in 2006. Wood thrushes prefer mainly deciduous woodlands and I am fortunate to live in such surroundings.  I can hear their liquid call echo gently from the woods surrounding my home.

The arrival of the wood thrush means that the Veery, catharus fuscescens,  another thrush will be back soon too.  This small plain bird also rivals the most beautiful calls in the world with a breezy, flute like downward spiral made with dual voice boxes that harmonize with each other.

Another one of my favorite songs is the song of the Eastern Wood Pewee, a small sparrow-sized flycatcher with a sweet and slow plaintive whistle. Pee-o-wee that slurrs down and then up the follows it with pee-ow. We often connect songs that play on the radio with places and times in our lives. I make mental connections with favorite times and settings and the bird songs I heard.  The Pewee I connect with deep woodlands, warm still mornings,  many of these coupled with the gentle sound of hooves on the forest floor as I ride my horse through the deep woods.  It is times like these that make me glad to be alive, as well as glad to be an early riser.

Cougars in New York- Truth or Fiction?

Another winter has passed and no cougar tracks in the snow, yet some people claim to have seen them and believe that they are living among us.  There are many legends of local Western New York cougars.  I first heard about them when a neighbor had a rifle by his door.  Curious, I asked  “why the rifle?”  He responded “Well, didn’t you hear?  A farmer down the road shot a cougar.  It killed one of his cows, so he staked it out the next night and two came back.  He shot one and the other one got away. It had a DEC tag in its ear.  The DEC was going to fine him, but then they realized that it had been killing the farmers cows, so they just told him not to say anything.  The DEC guy told him that they released several breeding pairs in the area”.

“Now why would they do that?  I asked, curious.

“To control the deer population”  He responded.

Since then I have many variations on that theme, varying from  “50 pairs of cougars released”  and “to control the coyote population” being the reason they were released.

Sightings of the cougars always come in the summer- never the winter.  No hunters ever report seeing the cougars while out hunting deer, and certainly none have shot one.  No tracks in the snow either.  Wouldn’t there be tracks? Do cougars migrate south with the birds or  Is there another reason they don’t leave tracks in the snow?

Why aren’t typical “cougar kills” ever found?  They must be eating something .

Where do all of these cougar sightings originate?  What are people really seeing?  Any ideas?  I think they are seeing deer, domestic cats, and coyotes.  One lady thought she had one in her barn laying in her hay. She is a pretty astute animal person and she insisted she had seen it up close and it hissed at her and then ran in big bounds.  Intrigued, I checked it out and found it to be a coyote with Sarcoptic mange.

Could cougars control coyotes?  Nope.

Would they control deer?


Could it be just another folklore story that is fun to tell?


Most likely.

I don’t believe a State  can just re-introduce a species like this, there are way too many hoops to jump through.  Look at all they are going through just trying to reintroduce wolves into other areas of the country. There are lots of public meetings, etc.  Cougars aren’t free either  and one would think a “cougar stocking ” program would be quite expensive.  What would New York want to do something like this for?  There is an Internet hoax that shows a fellow with a huge dead cougar in his garage.  The text in the e-mail says it was a “friend of a friend” who shot the cougar locally- it describes the cougar stalking a neighbors cows, etc..  This is a real photo, but the story is fabricated.  The cougar was actually taken out west.  Another photo that has been circulated shows a cougar on someones deck.  The the photo is real, but it was taken out west, not in Steuben county as described in the e-mail.  That particular photo has actually circulated for years and was seen in several other states before it circulated in New York.    They even go on to say that the sighting was confirmed by a “DEC guy”   Yet, no legitimate names ever surface.

Lets see how many cougar stories crop up this summer.  It will most likely be the same story that involves a cow farmer and a cougar that was shot with a tag in its ear,  just a  different county.

Cougar Cougar