Predation underfoot

13 06 2008

While pulling garlic mustard in Sapsucker Woods the other day, I was suddenly aware of a keening wail coming from nearby.  It was the sort of sound that makes a person feel a bit uncomfortable, so I stopped for a moment to see if I could figure out what it was…


Six birds (2 robins, 3 RW blackbirds, and a goldfinch) perched in a small oak about 20m away, looking agitated and peering down at the ground, but not the source of the sound…Now my curiosity was really piqued, so I maneuvered for a better vantage point and was greeted by an uncommonly viewed scene of predation: a long-tailed weasel  was firmly attached to the back of a  cottontail rabbit(!), biting repeatedly at the base of the rabbit’s neck.  The rabbit was the source of the wail, and as I watched the keening soon stopped and the weasel was left with his lunch.  

This weasel was likely a male (males are larger than females and tend to go after larger prey, like rabbits), and was hunting right around the time that weasels have young.  Distinguishing long-tailed weasels from short-tailed weasels can be difficult, as the male short-tails overlap in size with the female long-tails, but given the prey choice of this weasel I am fairly confident that it was a long-tailed weasel.  


This joins several other predation events I feel lucky to have witnessed here in Sapsucker Woods–several others involved frogs or turtles being carried off by crows (in one instance a chipmunk ate a green frog!), Cooper’s Hawks and Red-tails feeding on birds or small mammals, and the ubiquitous fish/frog foraging of the great blue herons and belted kingfishers.  But this was my first mammal-on-mammal predation in Sapsucker Woods (not counting the trespassing deer-hunters this past winter), and it was pretty spectacular!  Any predation happening in your backyards?




5 responses

16 06 2008
Sally Eldermire

Interesting event and really great picture– How did you get so close to get such a good pic?– the only predation around Berea, Ohio right now is our old friend, the Coopers Hawk, who comes through to check out the buffet at my bird feeders.

16 06 2008
Ann (future mother-in-law)

This is really a neat account, and like your mom, I’m amazed how close you were able to get! By the way, my mother adores this blog, and always tells me something she learned from it. See you soon.

25 06 2008

Wow, that is fantastic! I saw my first ever Short-tailed Weasels just a few weeks ago, I’ve not seen this species. You think if I poke around where this guy was I could stand a chance at seeing him again?

~ Nick

25 06 2008

Hey Nick-
Quite probable that you could see him again–weasels have relatively small home ranges, and I would guess that this one was provisioning young somewhere nearby (though I couldn’t stick around to see where he was going). I spotted this weasel in the meadowy weeds in front of the catering kitchen entrance on the east side of the building. If you need more direction, feel free to grab me in the hallway sometime 🙂

18 08 2008
julie Zickefoose

Ye gods! What a shot! That looks like a baby rabbit to me. Here’s what I want to know. Did the weasel bury the carcass and keep coming back for pieces? That’s what one did in my meadow. It was too big for it to lug away so it covered it with grass, and then carved it up over several days. Whether it carried away pieces or simply ate to repletion each time it returned I don’t know. I don’t know how weasels feed their young, but would like to find out.

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