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Stoat

All about stoats

The stoat is a small, but highly active and efficient predator, which can be found all over the British Isles. Although brown in summer, they sometimes turn pure white in the winter, except for the tip of the tail, which remains black. The fur is then called ermine and used to be highly prized for trimming ceremonial robes.

What to look for

The stoat is a slender, long-bodied animal with a black tipped tail. They weigh up to 300g, are 15–30cm long with a tail length of 6–12cm. Male stoats are larger than females. The summer coat is reddish-brown on the back with pale under-parts.

Did you know?

  • Stoats prey on birds, reptiles and small mammals, especially voles, hares and rabbits. On finding prey, the stoat will creep as low as possible until close to it, then it leaps onto the prey with a quick jump. A stoat kills by biting through the back of the skull or the neck. Stoats also take the eggs of chickens and game birds.
  • The stoat usually moves by a series of jumps, with its back strongly arched.
  • Stoats only raise one litter of “kittens” a year, in the late spring, with mating taking place early in the previous summer. The nest used for breeding is usually in a hole in a dry stone wall, under a hedgerow or in a dry ditch. Occasionally a stoat will kill the rabbits in a warren and then use that as a base. The number of kittens will vary with the food supply, but ranges from 6 to 12 young. The kittens are suckled and are weaned after 7-10 weeks. The parents then teach them to hunt for themselves.

Photo gallery

Stoat with killl NottsWT (cpt Scott Tilley) Stoat  NottsWT (cpt Geoff Curtis)

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Stoat Printable Factsheet

Status

Stoats are less common than they used to be. Some farmers and gamekeepers shoot or trap them because stoats eat the eggs and young fledglings of game birds like partridge and pheasant. However, the main reason for their decline is thought to be changes in the agricultural landscape as farming has modernised and game-keeping has become less intensive.

Habitats

Stoats prefer open, low country and can be found around hedgerows, paths, walls, ditches and copses; in fact anywhere with good hiding places! They tend to wander over a large area, but usually settle close to places with a good food supply, including farm buildings.

Where to see

Stoats are often found close to human habitation. They usually move around at night, although they can be seen in daylight hours. They are very curious and will explore burrows and buildings. If you startle one it will dive for cover in the nearest hedge or hole, but, if you stay still and quiet, it will soon come out again for a better look at you.

 

Protecting Wildlife for the Future