The Mountain-Ear is located at:
20 E. Lakeview Drive, Unit 109 (inside Brightwood Music).
Our mailing address is PO Box 99, Nederland, CO 80466

We are also located at: 245 Apollo Drive, PO Box 99, Black Hawk, CO 80422

Phone: (303) 810-5409

Life in Nature: Hidden hunters



Taking a look this week at one of our quite elusive, yet common neighbors, the American Pine Marten. Martens are part of the Mustelid family, along with weasels, ferrets, fishers, otters, and more, and tend to fall between the weasel and the fisher in size, with adults averaging 20-28 inches in length and weighing between one and three pounds. While they are common to the area, they are notoriously hard to find, often keeping to treetops as they hunt or simply avoid human and other animal contact.

Martens are opportunists, hunting everything from squirrels and voles to foraging bird nests, and with the growing popularity of raising chickens, they can also find a tasty meal of our own egg-layers, as was the case with the first one I ever came across. If you’ve raised chickens for any length of time, you likely know the phrase “weasel in the henhouse,” as one can wipe out a small flock with vigor, caching anything they don’t eat immediately for later consumption.

In the case of my first encounter, we were only made aware of the pine marten’s presence as the local clan of magpies found it first, and were making a large racket in the treetops, likely in an effort to coax it away from their nests and homes. It was certainly not happy to be caught between a flock of angry magpies above and a couple of humans below, and soon made haste away from everyone, using the network of tree branches to escape like a squirrel.

Like other mustelids, martens do hunt along the ground, but also prefer heading up into the trees to search nests as well as stalk and pounce on prey from above. They have been known to leap as far as 18 feet from a branch down into deep snows in an effort to take down their quarry. If one is lucky on a winter hike, one might find an imprint of the full body, tail, and outstretched appendages where a marten has “belly-flopped” into the snow.

Part of their elusiveness also stems from being very territorial, even killing others of their own kind to protect their “home turf,” making finding one that much more difficult due to their scarcity in a given area. Due to this “loner” behavior, in the wild they only tend to congregate during mating season, with males mating with multiple females, then returning to their solitary lives.

Interestingly, martens and other mustelids utilize a delayed implantation of fertilized eggs, with martens delaying implantation of an embryo for up to 6-8 months. They will mate in July or August, then hold off on implanting the embryo until as late as February, giving birth approximately 30 days later in March.

The image shown here is likely an adolescent, who was surprisingly not afraid nor really caring too much about my presence as I was coming down from an early summer hike in 2021. I was seated on a bridge, capturing video of the snow-melt laden waterfall upstream, when it popped out and began to sniff curiously for prey around me and my gear. It was evening, a common time of activity for martens, so it was likely out hunting its dinner among possible rodent dens under the bridge, and I was merely an inconvenience for the hungry youngster.

My third encounter in 25 years only just happened two weeks ago up in the lush pine forest as I nestled into an evening of wildflower photography. This larger adult never stuck around for images, and quickly scampered off into the trees nearly before I could even mentally register what it was that I saw. Very best of luck to you on your own sightings of these elusive predators!

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