American mink (Neovison vison), Idlewild Park, Reno. Jan 2015. Photo: Kelsey McCutcheon.

Mysterious mink: Is our mink population growing?

In Wildlife, Winter by KelseyFitzgerald3 Comments

This morning, I held an American mink in my bare hands.  It was dead, and its insides and eyeballs had been replaced with white stuffing, but that took little away from the experience of touching the mink’s silky fur and inspecting its tiny claws.  Live mink, I admit, are much more fun to watch; this particular specimen lay in a drawer at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Natural History Museum, outnumbered by weasels.

American mink, UNR Natural History Museum

An American mink (on bottom) at the Natural History Museum, University of Nevada, Reno.

Mink skull, UNR Natural History Museu

The skull of a mink (Neovison vison — formerly Mustela vison).

If you’d like to see a live mink, now is a great time to look. Mink are common along the Truckee River in downtown Reno, especially in the area between Wingfield Park and the west end of Idlewild Park. I’ve also heard reports of mink over in in Sparks, near Glendale Ave. and Rock Park. I’ve seen and heard of so many mink in the past few months, in fact, that I started to wonder if our local mink population was increasing.

To find out more, I spoke with Chris Healy of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, who believes that our mild winter may be contributing to an increase in mink sightings. “It’s as simple as the fact that winter isn’t happening,” said Healy. “There aren’t more mink, just more opportunities to see them this time of year.” With water levels so low and a border of ice alongside the river channel, it may be easier than usual to see mink running along the riverbanks, Healy explained. The warm weather also means that more people are out walking, thus increasing the chance of someone seeing a mink. “If you were a mink, right now is actually very good living, with water levels as they are now and easy access to waterbirds and crayfish [food items],” said Healy.

Mink near Glendale Ave., Jan. 6 2015. Photo by Walter.

Mink on ice near Glendale Ave., Jan. 6 2015. Photo submitted to Truckee River Guide by Walter.

American mink in Idlewild Park, Reno. Photo: K.McCutcheon.

American mink in Idlewild Park, Reno.  Photo: K.McCutcheon.

According to Healy, NDOW does not do small mammal surveys along the Truckee River, and does not actively monitor the local mink population.  Most of what they know about Nevada’s mink population comes from statewide trapping records, reported in their 2014 Upland and Migratory Game Bird, Rabbit and Fur-Bearing Mammals Harvest Data and Population Status  Report.  According to Healy, the long term average for mink capture (since 1970) has been 89 mink trapped per year.  During the 2013-14 trapping season, 88 mink were captured in Nevada, indicating that mink populations are normal.  The year before that, however, 165 mink were captured (2012-13), and the price of mink pelts was approximately $11 higher, so there may be still more to the story.

Mink are lots of fun to watch — look for them climbing around in the rocks along the banks of the Truckee, or swimming in the channel, especially in the Idlewild Park area of downtown Reno. If you see a mink, please send a photo or submit an observation!

American mink in Idlewild Park, Reno.

American mink in Idlewild Park, Reno. 

Can you see the mink? Truckee River near River Ranch, CA.

Can you see the mink? Truckee River near River Ranch, CA.  

American mink, UNR Natural History Museum

Cuter with eyeballs? American mink at the Natural History Museum, University of Nevada, Reno.

Thanks to Chris Healy of NDOW for the information on mink, to Jerry Tiehm from UNR’s Natural History Museum for letting me hold my first mink, and to Walter, Kelly Klinger, Kevin Badik and Alex Mensing for reporting mink sightings!


  1. I saw a mink in the rocks last week at Truckee river downtown crawling around actively. I thought it was a ferret. My neighbor thought a rat the size of a cat took a bath in her cat’s water bowl since she left her door open. I am going to suggest to her it may have been a mink. She lives near the river.

    1. Author

      Good find! They’re fun to watch, aren’t they? Mink are fairly common along the Truckee River in downtown Reno, but I’ve never heard of one going into someone’s house!

  2. Not a mink but saw a long tailed or short tailed weasel at my house up in VC Highlands, Reno. Quite exciting!

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