Pine marten - honey thief

Text: Kristel Vilbaste
Photo: Arne Ader
Translation: Liis
The cold weather has forced the weasel family animals out to forage for food. The terror of little birds and animals, the pine marten, is on the move too. Spreading of rabies vaccine meant for foxes has increased the number of pine martens too considerably; moreover hunting has decreased.
In late winter - pre-spring pine martens do much damage to beekeepers. By chewing at the wood a marten can open up air and flight openings and other cracks in hives, wherever it can sink in its teeth. In most cases the marten quickly destroys a whole apiary, eating both the bee colonies and the honey.
The pine marten is a cat-sized predator. Its body is slender and strong, the tail fluffy, 17-26 cm long. The sharp-pointed ears are comparatively large. The fur is dense, fluffy, usually dark brown. The large yellow or orange tapering patch, "bib“, on the throat and breast is eye-catching. In winter the soles of the feet are covered by dense hair. The pine marten can be confused with the stone or beech marten (Martes foina) that is increasingly often seen in western and north-western Estonia. The stone marten is larger than the pine marten, with a white breast patch that spreads to the legs; the soles of the stone marten are hairless even in winter. The pine marten becomes sexually mature in its second year, the heat period is in June-July and the young are born in April-May.
The pine marten inhabits a variety of forests types, as well as coppices (hazel, juniper stands). It does not avoid human settlements either, sometimes living, like the stone marten, in house attics and in ancillary buildings. In the forest it nests and rests in tree hollows and in squirrel or bird nests. It feeds on small mammals, birds and their eggs, amphibians, insects. In autumn berries and seeds are significant parts of the diet.
Based on surveys at the end of the 1950’s the number of pine martens was about 1000-2000 individuals whereupon it increased; until 1960-1985 it stayed at about 3000-4000 individuals. After the ban on catching prey with foothold traps the number of pine martens in Estonia increased to 5-6 thousands, reaching a maximum in 1995. According to surveillance data it was then nearly 7000 individuals. In the later half of the 1990’s the number fell somewhat, in the last few years it has increased. About 600 pine martens are killed by hunting each year




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