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?