Short-tailed Weasel vs Eastern Cottontail

On Christmas Eve 2023 I was treated to an unexpected show. I had just photographed an Eastern Towhee, rare here for this time of year, which made the morning already a successful one, when I spotted an Eastern Cottontail just flying across the forest floor. Two seconds later, a Short-tailed Weasel (also called an ermine when in its white winter coat) also flew across the forest floor, in hot pursuit of the rabbit and about two seconds behind it.

I thought that was it, a fun a fast sighting, but low-and-behold, the rabbit zigged and zagged back towards me four times, with the weasel gaining some ground at every turn. At one point it even jumped on the rabbit’s side and tumbled back down and resumed the chase (this last part was behind some low shrubs and not photographable).

Short-tailed Weasel (ermine) on the run, chasing an eastern Cottontail. Canon R6 + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/2500s., f/5.6, ISO 6400.

The actual take-down was sudden, and right in front of me.  I was not prepared for it, but luckily for the next few minutes the action was directly in front of me, 10 yards away.  The weasel wrestled with the rabbit for a few moments, until the prey was subdued.  The rabbit had no chance, with the ermine going for the neck and sticking to it until the last breath.

Short-tailed Weasel (ermine) wrestling an Eastern Cottontail to the ground.  Canon R6 + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/2500s., f/5.6, ISO 12800.

After the swift take-down, it was a slow and lengthy “death-hold” grip on the neck.  In all it was about five minutes of this until the weasel started dragging the rabbit away, but it offered many cool poses from point-blank range.  It was underneath some low branches, but seeing that my style of photography finds me crawling on my stomach much of the time this was no issue, so down I was for eye-level and unobstructed looks at the scene.

Short-tailed Weasel (ermine) death grip on Eastern Cottontail rabbit.  Canon R6 + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/640s., f/5.6, ISO 6400.

Short-tailed Weasel (ermine) with preyed Eastern Cottontail rabbit.  Canon R6 + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/640s., f/5.6, ISO 6400.

Short-tailed Weasel (ermine) with preyed Eastern Cottontail rabbit.  Canon R6 + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/640s., f/5.6, ISO 6400.

Short-tailed Weasel (ermine) death grip on Eastern Cottontail rabbit.  Canon R6 + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/640s., f/5.6, ISO 6400.

After the weasel deemed the rabbit as cold and dead (well, maybe not really cold yet!), it started to drag it away through the low bushes.  It was not an easy task, but it persisted and even went up and over some roots and low vines that were in the way.  These guys are so tenacious and tough for their little size.  My thoughts when it took the rabbit away were that it would start tearing it, and I was getting ready for a bit of gore…but fear not, what happened is that it dragged the prey away, out of sight, into a hole as cache for later consumption.  The way it dragged it in that hole was in one last swift tug, and down it went – I was surprised as I could not see that there was a deep hole there!

Short-tailed Weasel (ermine) inspecting preyed Eastern Cottontail rabbit.  Canon R6 + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/320s., f/5.6, ISO 3200.

Short-tailed Weasel (ermine) dragging Eastern Cottontail rabbit.  Canon R6 + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/640s., f/5.6, ISO 6400.

Short-tailed Weasel (ermine) dragging Eastern Cottontail rabbit.  Canon R6 + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/640s., f/5.6, ISO 640.

After this point, the weasel and rabbit disappeared into the ground, completely out of sight.  But the vicious little critter was not done yet.  It poked out a couple of times as a last showing, to survey the surroundings, before going back in for good.  But I think it really wanted to show that it is as cute as a button when all things are settled!  Don’t you think?

Short-tailed Weasel (ermine).  Canon R6 + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/640s., f/5.6, ISO 6400.

Short-tailed Weasel (ermine).  Canon R6 + 500mm f/4 II + 1.4TC III, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/640s., f/5.6, ISO 6400.

 

 

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18 Comments

  1. David Tyrer December 31, 2023 at 10:38 am #

    What an extraordinary opportunity for you and of course you took full advantage of it. I can’t say it was luck, because I know how hard you work in the field, but how lucky for you.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Daniel Cadieux December 31, 2023 at 2:32 pm #

      Hi David, glad you like the series! I couldn’t believe my eyes while it was happening. All the best for the New Year!

  2. Joke van Geldrop December 31, 2023 at 11:20 am #

    Beautiful report of this special event.
    The second to last picture is my favorite although I like them all.
    Happy New Year, Dan!

    • Daniel Cadieux December 31, 2023 at 2:31 pm #

      Thank you very much, Joke. Always a pleasure to hear form you. Happy New Year!

  3. Rob Julien December 31, 2023 at 11:24 am #

    Luck….Labouring Under Correct Knowledge….this what happens when you put the time in!

  4. Mark Zimmerman December 31, 2023 at 12:21 pm #

    Fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing.

  5. Holly December 31, 2023 at 6:17 pm #

    Wow what an amazing opportunity. Excellent photographs.
    Happy New Year

    • Daniel Cadieux December 31, 2023 at 9:23 pm #

      Thank you very much Holly. Happy New Year to you as well!

  6. Kimberly Pedersen December 31, 2023 at 6:58 pm #

    Fantastic series of photos. Thank you as well for the story behind the pics!

    • Daniel Cadieux December 31, 2023 at 9:23 pm #

      Thank you so much Kimberly, glad you like them!

  7. Dave O’Neill December 31, 2023 at 7:32 pm #

    Dan what an extraordinary series of captures that enhance your story so well. This is just an amazing nature event that you were a part of

    • Daniel Cadieux December 31, 2023 at 9:24 pm #

      Thanks a stack Dave. An encounter to remember that’s for sure. Happy New Year!

  8. Eliza January 3, 2024 at 3:40 pm #

    Stunning sequence, Dan. Your lucky day! Amazing that despite the brutal takedown, its fur remained a pristine white.

    • Daniel Cadieux January 3, 2024 at 4:42 pm #

      Thank you very much Eliza! Right place at right time. I suppose the snow helped a lot – had it been rolling around on dirt and other forest-floor debris it likely would have become dirty. Such fun!

  9. Stephen Stephen January 22, 2024 at 12:01 am #

    Great series and story Dan. I’m sorry that I left 20 minutes too early but, very pleased that you witnessed this behaviour.

    • Daniel Cadieux January 22, 2024 at 6:44 pm #

      Thank you Stephen! Yes, that was unfortunate you missed the action by just a bit. It was nice chatting with you that Christmas Eve morning though!

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