Here is a personal acquaintanceship with wild animals as they live out their lives in their native habitat, with a detailed description of their manner of life, their habits, their individual traits, lovingly related by a peerless storyteller.
This is no encyclopedic reference work designed to gather dust on the shelves of a library; it is a book to be read, loved, and treasured by nature lovers of every age, for in these pages Mr. Montgomery's wilderness friends live as Nature intended them to live, obeying the laws of the world that decree the strong and the cunning shall survive to maintain the balance of nature that ruled the wilderness for centuries before man stepped in with his guns, his traps, and his poisons.
Here the reader is told where to look for existing wild animals today, how to observe them and learn their ways, how to understand and appreciate their individual traits, and how to respect their ways of life.
|Age Range:||13 - 17 Years|
Blood on the Trail
Along the North Dakota creek I met a tribe that has ever since interested
me: the weasel family. At first I knew only three of the tribe, the weasel,
the mink, and the marten; later as my range widened I came to know the rest
of them, the fisher, the wolverine, and the otter.
At first the weasel was of interest to me only during the winter when its brown summer coat had turned to pure white with a black tip on its long, slender tail. They were easy to watch because they seldom kept to cover and would defy me if I disturbed one of them. You could chase one of them down a gopher hole, but within minutes he'd pop out and hiss at you.
A weasels' favorite drink is the warm blood of its victim. I soon came to believe that a weasel kills for the sheer lust of killing. I have found muskrat dens where the whole family had been killed, but not even one eaten. The weasel has always fascinated me. Its body is equipped for the profession of murder. It is slender and supple, every muscle and nerve is perfectly coordinated. It is so powerful that it can overcome animals many times its size. Its sharp teeth make its jaws fearsome weapons.
I have seen a weasel strike down a big flickertail gopher before the terrified rodent could move a muscle. The sharp teeth flashed out so fast as they bit into the jugular vein that it was impossible to count the number of bites.
The weasel is certainly a game hog, but he does not lack courage. He kills by direct attack and not by stealth, exposing himself to fangs and claws. I have never seen a weasel turn tail and run away from a fight. Woe be to any big snake that tries to swallow him. His slashing fangs will cut through the head of the snake and the weasel will be free in a few seconds. He may not survive the ordeal but neither will the snake.
Many large animals are terrified when a weasel appears. Small brush rabbits have been known to drop dead of fright when faced by a weasel. In snow time I have checked the tracks of a weasel pursuing a large rabbit. In one case the rabbit escaped by making a maze of tracks, circling, doubling back, jumping sideways. The weasel trails with his keen nose and not by sight, and if the rabbit is not panicked or paralyzed by fear, it sometimes escapes.
The weasel's lack of fear of man many times brings disaster to the little killer. I remember one night on the farm when we were all sitting down to supper. We suddenly heard a commotion in the henhouse, loud squawking and excited cackling. We dashed outside with Dad in the lead.
When he burst into the henhouse, he found a weasel there. It had already killed four hens and was attacking mother's old brown rooster who weighed at least eight pounds as against the weasel's probable eight ounces. Dad had no weapon, but he didn't intend to let that weasel kill the rooster. He grabbed it with a bare hand and jerked it away from the rooster's neck, intending to hurl it against the henhouse wall. The weasel was too fast for him; it sank its fangs into his thumb and hung on. Dad came dancing out of the henhouse waving his arm wildly, jerking it in an effort to dislodge the weasel. It hung on until he twisted its head around and broke its neck. I once had an experience illustrating this lack of fear of man. I had been fishing for brook trout on Mill Creek in western Colorado. I had caught quite a few fish just above the legal minimum of seven inches. Gourmets know that there just isn't a tastier morsel than eight-or nine-inch brook trout. I sat down on a grassy hummock to smoke my pipe, laying rod and creel on the grass beside me. A weasel came out of a thicket and stood sniffing eagerly. At the time, I thought it was a very young weasel; later I was to learn that it was a least weasel or pigmy, which would never weigh over three or four ounces.
The little fellow suddenly darted to my fish basket and started trying to get inside it. I waved him off with my dip net. He backed away a few feet, and stood staring at me, hissing sharply. Thinking to have some sport with it, I took a fish from my basket, picked up my rod and fastened a fly hook into the mouth of the trout, then dangled it above the head of the weasel. It promptly leaped into the air. On the third try it sank its fangs into the gills of the fish, and with a big tug jerked it loose from the hook. I don't remember just how high that weasel jumped, but it was twice as high as I thought any weasel or other small creature could jump. I sat down and watched the weasel drag away a trout bigger than himself. I figured he had earned his meal.
A weasel probably should be considered a somewhat dull-witted fellow. When I was trapping I used a simple device for catching weasels. They were sure to follow the ice and snow covered surface of the creek, making side trips in search of mice. I would gather a small bundle of twigs and make a V-shaped fence across the creek bed, one arm of the V facing up stream and one down. Where the points met I left an opening where I set my trap, not bothering to dust snow over it, just leaving it in the open. If a weasel came along, he just followed the fence to the opening and stepped into the trap. Few wild animals would be that dumb or careless, except the marten. In seeking a home where a family can be raised, the weasel has little trouble. He does not dig or burrow, but can dispossess any digger who has labored to make a den.
Not much is on record regarding the weasel's mating habits, but ferrets have been closely observed and they are close kin. Their courtship is a savage love affair. However, the pairs I have observed in the wood, and supposed were on their honeymoon, seemed to get along with no friction.
The weasel litter will be from one to ten. Though a blood-thirsty killer, that father seems domestically inclined. I found one den containing pink, wrinkled, toothless, and almost naked babies, being cared for by both mother and father.
Weasels undoubtedly do more good than harm to farmers. Their diet in winter is meadow mice, white-footed and other varieties. In summer they may add a few birds to this list and some rabbits.
The weasel pelt has always been much in demand. When I was trapping I got sixty cents for a prime-weasel pelt while receiving ten cents for a prime muskrat pelt. Today prices of both are much higher.
Most of our North American weasels belong to the long-tail species. They have a wide range, although some naturalists doubt the least weasel is to be found on the Pacific Coast or west of the Rockies. However the one who stole my fish was living on the Western Slope of Colorado.
From my grade school days until today, I have been meeting weasels. The weasel is one wild animal you are apt to meet often. If you do take the time to watch him, he is a restless creature and something is bound to happen if you follow him and observe him.
Table of Contents
|Blood on the Trail||3|
|The Crafty Killer||8|
|The Solitary One||12|
|The Tree-minded Weasel||16|
|Maker of Tall Tales||22|
|Dolphins in Fur Coats||30|
|Down to the Sea||37|
|Some Desert Dwellers||46|
|More Desert Dwellers||66|
|Mice Including a Gopher||72|
|Quills and Hare||118|
|Where It Is Wet||135|
|Big and Little Stinkers||224|
|The Antlered Tribe||240|
|Like Bats out of Hell||277|
|Relics of the Past||284|