Alberta, Canada
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American Marten
Martes americana
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General Description

By Gustave J. Yaki

The American Marten is a mink-sized member of the Weasel Family which spends much of its time in trees. They formerly ranged across North America, throughout the boreal forest, from Alaska to Newfoundland and southward into the western mountains to Oregon and Colorado. In Canada, they were absent only from the treeless prairies and tundra. Today they are gone from much of their original southern range across this country, existing only in pockets of mature forest, because of habitat destruction and over-trapping.

Average measurements of an adult male is: length, 600 mm (24 in), of which the long bushy tail measures 175 mm (7 in). Weight is 1000 g (2.2 lb). Males are about 15 per cent larger than the females.

The outer fur of this fox-faced mammal is extremely variable in colour, ranging from a dark brown -- almost black to a pale buff. The dense and soft underfur is tan-coloured. Often there is an irregular creamy or orange-coloured breast spot(s). Their legs and tail are usually dark. Martens, which are active all year, are primarily nocturnal, from dusk to dawn, but may also be seen abroad on cloudy days, particularly in the late afternoon. They have a wide range of tastes. Small rodents, particularly Red-backed Voles, are their main food item, comprising up to 66 per cent of their diet in one study. Red Squirrels and flying squirrels are also important food items (10 per cent). When abundant, Snowshoe Hares may account for 40 per cent of the diet. Grouse and smaller birds constituted 12 per cent in a northern B. C. study. Carrion (deer and elk) is readily eaten when available. Insects, particularly beetles, bugs and wasp form about five per cent of their food intake.

Like all carnivores, they also consume vegetable matter, particularly fruit in season. This includes blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and wild cherries. They have been seen taking apples from a picnic hamper. They readily come to bird feeding stations, particularly at isolated cabins, probably attracted by suet, but eating seeds and other items when the suet is not available.

Martens are primarily solitary animals, the males, which are polygamous, are particularly pugnacious. The sexes come together only to mate in mid-summer. After the eggs are fertilized, development is arrested for seven to eight months until implantation occurs in late February or early March. Twenty-eight days after this occurs, the female gives birth to one to four blind, deaf, helpless young. This happens in a leaf-lined nests in a hollow tree, or in a cavity amongst rocks. The infants are almost naked, covered only with a thin yellow coat. They moult into a dark brown subadult coat at the end of their third week. Their ears open at 26 days and their eyes at 39 days. They start to crawl when about 46 days of age and are fully weaned at six weeks of age. They learn quickly, becoming fully independent when only three months old. When 15 to 17 months of age, they reach sexually maturity, but most females usually do not produce their first litter until near their third birthday.

Calgary sightings: Prior to the colonization by Europeans, it is likely that Martens occurred regularly in the coniferous stands in the valleys of the Bow, Elbow and Fish Creek. No confirmed recent sightings have been recorded, but it is believed that a Marten was seen in Calgary's Bowness Park along the Bow River during the winter of 2002-2003. Conceivably, one could also follow the Elbow River into the Weaselhead Natural Area.

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Where to find American Martens in Alberta   

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