A tireless traveler, the marten (Martes americana) leaves an endless line of tracks through the Alaskan wilderness. Like other members of the weasel family, martens successfully hunt quick prey like the red squirrel and snowshoe hare in deep snow. Tracks are the most common sign of the presence of martens. Following or backtracking marten tracks will tell a story of what this tough, little predator has been up to and gives clues to their habits. Though they are seldom very common, martens are not endangered over most of their range. But martens are so shy and secretive that little is known about their mysterious lives. Old growth forests with large trees and numerous standing and fallen dead trees are a martens prefered habitat, providing cover, food, shelter and cavities for their dens.
Martens are the most arboreal (tree-dwelling) members of the weasel family. They can out climb and out jump and out smart red squirrels. I followed the tracks of a marten through the stand of black spruce near our home in Alaska one morning. Not far from our house I came upon the scene of a night-time home invasion. The shredded grass and sphagnum moss nest of one of my red squirrels (a favorite photo subject) lay scattered on the snow beneath the spruce tree where it had been constructed. The marten had probably detected the presence of the squirrel by scent. And then under the cover of darkness, the marten climbed the spruce to ambush the red squirrel as it slept. For red squirrels, the marten is a real nightmare.
Grouse, ptarmigan, voles, flying squirrels, snowshoe hares and, at times fish, are all on the marten menu. But they are not purely carnivorous; blueberries, fruits, nuts, insects and carrion are important food for this opportunistic feeder. The marten (above) butchers and carries away a snowshoe hare to be cached away from its predator and scavenger competitors.
Listen to an audio clip of marten inside his den. Click on left side of audio bar.
Curled up in his cavity, a marten sleeps.