Mink are originally from North America but can be found throughout European countries as well. The wild American mink (Neovison vison) is not limited to the United States and can be found in Canada. The smaller European mink (Mustela lutreola) is very rare and considered a threatened species while its cousin the sea mink (Neovison macrodon) is now extinct due to hunting during the 19th century.
To understand the mink’s habitat you first have to understand the physiology and anatomy of the animal. Mink have long sleek bodies, made for swimming, like the otter and weasel. They have long tails, usually 5 to 9 inches in length which is about 1/3 of their total body measurement. The mink have short legs and 5 toes on each foot which is only partially webbed. This makes them good swimmers and fairly good climbers. Their outer layer of fur has oil on it making them somewhat waterproof. Mink have a strong sense of smell which guides them in their hunting. They have poor to fair eyesight on land and very limited sight underwater. These animals do not hibernate so they must remain near their food source year round.
Mink can be found from below the tree line in Canada, throughout the United States except the southwestern desert areas. Mink do not live in deserts as they must have water readily available. Their habitat can be found along waterways such as rivers and streams as well as marshlands and lakes. Mink are solitary animals so they mark off their territories by using their scent glands. Once a territory is established, females usually remain within their marked territories unless their food sources are threatened; while males tend to wander and will often leave their home areas in search of food or females for weeks at a time. While the males or females travel, other mink will use the abandoned homes as their own, and will vacate when the original mink returns. Mink do not take kindly to other mink using their homes and will fight ferociously to defend their territories. Mink have short legs which are not good for digging. They do not often make their own burrows for this reason and will take over the abandoned huts, dens and burrows of otters, muskrats and even beavers. Sometimes, unfortunately for the inhabitants, mink will move in to an occupied dwelling and kill and eat the muskrats or other animals living there. Minks will also make homes under rocky ledges or under fallen trees, large exposed tree roots and hollowed out tree stumps where they then line the area with soft leaves or hair. Females will usually live out their lives in one or two territories while males will many times travel along the waterways and claim new ones. Natural cavities in stream banks are also favorite areas for mink to make their home.
The numbers of mink in the habitats depends on the quality of food sources and the size of the overall area. As a general rule you can expect to find one mink for every 50 acres of marsh or wetland and approximately four or five mink to every mile of available stream or river. Although mink’s numbers are fairly high and they are not endangered at this time, mink like other wild animals are feeling the crunch of human encroachment. As we take over more and more of the land left available, we continue to take the ongoing risk of driving native species to their demise.