Did you know that Pine Martens are in the mustelid or
weasel-like mammal family?
Martens are related to mink, otters, badgers, wolverines,
weasels, and skunks.
What do martens look like?
Pine martens are very agile and can climb high up in the tree
tops. They are slender with a pointed face and a bushy tail.
Their tail helps them balance in the trees. Male martens are
larger than females. They are about the same length as a house
cat. These cute animals are between 19-27 inches long including
their tail which is from 5-9 inches long. They only weigh
between 1-3 pounds. Pine martens are brown with paler underparts
and dark brown legs. They have small rounded ears and sharp
teeth for eating meat.
Click on photo to enlarge
Where do martens live?
Martens prefer old coniferous forests in Northern climates. The
Border Country is an ideal habitat for them. Martens live in most
of Canada, the north western US, the Rockies, and New England. Martens
like old growth forests best because there are plenty of dead trees
to find food and shelter in. An old forest has a thick canopy that
provides shade for the ground cover which stays dark and damp. This
environment is ideal for small animals such as voles and squirrels.
What do Pine Martens like to eat?
Pine martens spend a lot of time searching the forest floor for
rodents. Martens prefer to eat Red-backed voles. They will also
eat other species of voles, mice, birds, flying squirrels, reptiles,
and rabbits. Martens will eat honey, insects, conifer seeds, worms,
eggs, and even berries.
How do Pine martens hunt?
Martens are fast, strong, and agile. They have lots of energy and
leap from tree to tree zig zagging to find flying squirrels. They
also forage along the ground poking their heads into crevices in
rock piles, hollow logs and holes in search of prey. Sometimes they
stalk their prey like a cat and other times they pounce at them
Did you know that Pine Martens stay active all year round even
in the winter?
Martens have special ways of keeping warm during the winter. They
burrow into the snow which insulates them from the cold. Martens
look for hollows in the snow around tree stumps and shrubs to find
mice and other small mammals. They even have fur on the soles of
their feet to keep them warm and to create a snowshoe effect when
Do Pine Martens live in groups?
No, martens prefer to live alone. When adult martens run into each
other they will often growl and show their teeth. They live in ranges
of between 5-15 square miles. When there are plenty of voles and
mice available the martens only need a small range, but when food
is scarce they must cover more territory.
When are young martens born?
Martens give birth to their young in March-April. They usually have
litters of 2-5 young. The mother finds a suitable tree hollow or
an abandoned den to raise her young in. The young martens nurse
for the first 6 weeks of their lives.
Adult martens begin to mate when they are 1 or 2 years old. They
mate in the middle of summer. The young are born 8 months later.
It is quite unusual for an animal of this size to have such a long
gestation period. This 8 month delay is important because it allows
the young to be born during the spring when there is plenty of food
and the weather conditions are favorable.
Did you know that martens have been trapped for years for their
beautiful soft fur?
Pine martens almost became extinct due to the heavy amount of fur
trapping in the 1700-1800s. The fur was traded to Europeans and
was highly valued because of its warmth and its soft, luxurious
feel. Trapping still goes on today in this country but with changing
fashions and the increased awareness of the fur trade there is less
demand for the marten fur. There are laws that protect the animals
to prevent them from becoming extinct.
What are some other concerns facing the lives of pine martens?
Martens have very few enemies besides humans. Logging has had major
effects on marten populations. Since the martens rely on old growth
forests for food and shelter, clearing the forests leaves the animals
hungry and homeless.
We are fortunate because here in the Border Country, because much
of the forest is inaccessible for loggers and their trucks. Pine
martens thrive here because of the large expanse of old growth trees
and pristine wilderness.
What are some signs of marten activity?
Look for marten scat along fallen logs or rock piles. The droppings
are about 5-6 inches long and may contain bits of nuts and berries.
Their footprints are less than 2 inches wide and show 5 toe pads
around a rounded heel pad.
You may be fortunate enough to see a marten jumping from tree to
Casey, D. 1988. The American Marten. Dodd, Mead & Company, New
Stensaas, M. 1993. Canoe country wildlife: a field guide to the
North Woods and Boundary Waters. Pfeifer- Hamilton, Duluth, MN.
Whitaker, J.O.Jr. National Audobon Society field guide to North
American mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York.