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A stoat visits the garden

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 11 Apr 2014 at 09:50 AM

The garden gave us a new surprise the other day when we found a stoat (Mustela erminea) in the courtyard. Great find, except that this one was dying.



Here’s the story. I had been given an old bird's nest to look at and the person who gave it to me put it in a plastic tray so I could carry it home undamaged. It was a lovely looking nest, made up of moss, wool, carpet fluff and animal hairs and, having given it a good looking over, I put the tray and nest outside intending to put it on the compost heap. Going out the next morning, I was stunned to find a stoat half in and half out of the nest. It wasn’t moving, but was breathing fitfully, so we gently moved it into the nest, put some water nearby and left it. An hour or so later it had died, so we had a closer look. This stoat seemed to be a good size and was clean and unmarked, so what happened to it? The only thing I could think of is that someone must have put down poison, maybe intended for rats, and that the stoat had eaten some of it. A few people keep chickens in town and maybe eggs and birds were being taken.





Stoats are fairly common in the UK and are usually seen in woods, farmland, uplands, moorlands, and hedgerows. I’ve seen stoats before in woodland or running across roads and, although this town has a lot of farmland around it and there are some good sized gardens nearby, I didn’t think we’d see one right here in town.






Finding one here, albeit dead, shows that there must be something for them to hunt or they’d go somewhere else. We have plenty of mice locally – all gardens have mice - as well as voles, moles and amphibians and there are rabbits in the meadows a short distance away, rabbits being the main prey of stoats. They will also take birds, which might explain a dead pigeon I found in the garden a while back, unmarked except for a puncture at the back of its neck; stoats are very skilful hunters, catching prey several times their own size and kill by a single bite to the back of the neck. 




So, there you have it – a stoat visiting a garden in the middle of town. I suppose we must be doing something right for it to have bothered coming here in the first place, but I do hope the next one I see is still alive.

I sent some pictures to my friend, John Davison, and in return he wrote a poem telling a bit of how stoats live.

Soon Forget

Weep for *Mustela erminea,*

[That’s the stoat to you]

Poisoned by some busybody,

With nothing else to do.

No more we’ll see his snaky dance,

That characteristic habit,

When out hunting with his mate,

They’d mesmerise a rabbit.

No more we’ll see him carry off,

The bounty twice his size,

To where his hungry kits await,

Eagerly for the prize.

Alas for him it is the end,

His date with fate full met,

For her a new *Mustela erminea,*

And her old one soon forget.

John Davison 


Snark said:

If you find another which you think could have been poisoned you should report it to the wildlife poisonings unit via DEFRA. Not all dead wildlife is poisoned. They are susceptible to several virus diseases and I have post mortemed an owl killed by a heavy burden of worms causing gut obstruction. Wildlife gets sick and dies of natural causes as well.

on 22 Apr 2014 at 06:29 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

Good points, Snark. If I find another dead stoat, I'll notify DEFRA.

on 22 Apr 2014 at 12:11 PM