Pine Marten (Martes martes)

Pine Marten (Martes martes) in the Cooley Mountains, Co. LouthThe secretive and elusive pine marten was once found throughout Ireland, but a combination of habitat destruction, hunting for their skins and persecution by gamekeepers during the early part of the 20th century meant that by the 1950’s few martens survived. These days pine martens are protected and their fortunes are improving. Numbers are increasing slowly, and in areas where suitable woodland habitat exists the species is gradually extending its range. The Burren in Co. Clare is considered to be the pine marten’s Irish stronghold.

Pine martens have chestnut to dark brown fur, a creamy-yellow bib and a long bushy tail. They are about the size of a cat, and are still referred to locally as “marten cats” in some areas. Males range from about 51 to 54cm (c. 20 to 22 inches) in length and weigh from 1.5 to 2.2 kilos (c. 3.3 to 5 lb) while females are usually slightly smaller, ranging from 46 to 54 cm (c. 18 to 22 inches) and weighing between 0.9 and 1.5 kilos (c. 2 to 3.3 lb). The long, bushy tail can add a further 25cm (c. 10 inches) to the overall length of the animal. Their fur is short in the summer, but becomes longer and thicker during the winter months.

A member of the mustelid family (along with the otter, badger, stoat and mink), the pine marten is the only Irish representative of the group at home in trees. They are exceptionally agile climbers, and spend much of their time above the forest floor, leaping squirrel-like from tree to tree as they travel.

Pine martens are active mainly at dusk and during the night. They have an incredibly varied diet that changes according to the seasonal availability of various foods. Predominantly carnivorous, martens actively hunt birds, squirrels, other rodents and rabbits. They also take birds’ eggs and carrion given the opportunity, and at certain times of the year berries and honey can play an important role in their diet. In spite of their almost peerless climbing ability martens prefer to hunt their prey on the ground.

Although pine martens occur in a wide range of habitats they tend to prefer well wooded areas that offer plenty of cover. They live in dens often situated in hollow trees or among the root masses of fallen Scots pine, an association that may have contributed to the label “pine marten”. They will also occupy disused squirrel nests (dreys), and in the absence of heavily wooded areas will make use of inaccessible cliff faces covered with dense scrub as alternative den sites.

Pine martens are territorial, and both male and females maintain territories that vary in size according to the type of habitat and the availability of food. Male territories tend to be larger – typically from 10-25 square kilometres (c. 4-10 square miles), while females usually patrol a smaller patch of between 5-15 square kilometres (c. 2-6 square miles). As with other mustelids martens mark out their territories by depositing strong-smelling “scats” in prominent areas, often along forest trails. These scats communicate to other martens that they are entering an occupied territory.

Mating usually occurs between July and August, but implantation of the fertilised egg is delayed so that young are born the following spring. Between one and five (usually three) deaf, blind and helpless young are born. After spending several months developing in the den they begin to emerge around the middle of June and become fully independent at about six months of age. Male pine martens play no part in the rearing of their young.

Photo credit: Copyright All rights reserved by Enda Flynn via the Ireland’s Wildlife group on Flickr

About Calvin Jones

Calvin Jones is a freelance writer, author, birder and lifelong wildlife enthusiast. He is founder and managing editor of IrelandsWildlife.com. He is also the tour leader and wildlife guide on our West Cork based Discover Wildlife tours.
Calvin is also co-author of bestselling digital marketing titles and offers digital business consulting services and training through Digital Marketing Success

Comments

  1. Great article Calvin. Fabulous little animals. Are they present in West Cork…I have seen habitat which you might expect to support them but never seen one here.

    • Teresa Ryan-Feehan says:

      Very interesting article about the pine marten – wish they would stay in the trees. I have a house in Glendine, Kinnitty in the Slieve Blooms Offaly – this is a holiday home – I could smell a ‘stink’ in the bedroom upstairs – when I opened the door to the crawl space in the attic area – loads of pooh – and a cheeky PINE MARTEN walked up and down the crawl space – upon further investigatiion further up along the eaves of the house – I saw at least two small heads looking out – so much for nesting in trees – big teeth and claws – not to be approached.
      also the remains of what seemed to be dead crows.
      I closed up the doors to the crawl space – dont think I will be approaching my unpaying guests – the sooner they move on the better and I can block off the space in the roof they crawled into.
      Any suggestions
      Teresa

      • Hi Teresa. Thanks for your comment.

        Pine martens taking up residence in roof spaces is unusual, but not unheard of, especially in buildings in remote areas, close to good pine marten habitat that are unoccupied for lengthy periods.

        They are generally shy creatures that avoid human activity (unless habituated by regular feeding, which can make them bolder). Your uninvited squatters may well move on of their own accord with people in and around the house again. If not I’d suggest you contact your local National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger for advice. You’ll find a downloadable PDF contact sheet showing nationwide contact numbers on the NPWS website. They should be able to offer guidance on the best approach both for you and for the family of pine martens.

        Thanks again for getting in touch… and best of luck with the pine martens. It’s unfortunate they are causing you a problem, but you’re very lucky to get to see them close up — it’s something not many people get the opportunity to experience.

    • Hi Nic — thought I’d replied your comment back in March, but can’t see it on the blog, so trying again. The only place in West Cork that I know they occur is in Glengarriff Nature Reserve… although there is of course always the chance of finding them in other suitable habitat.

      I’ve never seen one either — high on the “most wanted” list 🙂

    • Linzi Simpson says:

      I just saw a chocolate brown pine martin last night (6th June 2012) , very handsome and in full view of my car, within 2 feet – he stood for a minute and then fled but along a kind of passage through the hedges that obviously had seen some traffic by some animals, perhaps him. It was at Glenmore Lake in Beara so very close to west Cork – I saw him on a rough path along the western side of the lake – at Gortavallig – I would have loved to have watched that spot to see was it on his general route but I am sure it was.

      • Hi Linzi…. that’s great news… thanks for sharing! And last time I checked Beara was still in West Cork, so it’s fantastic to know that they’re around in the region, even though I’ve never managed to see one personally (yet!).

        If you’d like to help out the National Biodiversity Data Centre with their Mammal Atlas it would be great if you could report the sighting using their new online reporting tool.

  2. Gerry Heery says:

    Hi Calvin,
    Just a short story to relay.
    I live just outside Bailieborough, Co. Cavan & whilst watching tv on June 9th (about 10.15pm) I noticed a small animal sitting outside the window about 5m away. First I assumed it was a cat but then it reared on its hind legs into a vertical position (like a meercat). I was dark in colour with a bright bib around its neck & a long bushy tail.
    It hopped over & back across some stones for about 4 minutes.
    Then it ran up a lane & away into the long grass. I have never seen an animal run at such speed.
    My friend said he thinks its a pine marten & from looking at pictures I am inclined to agree. I have lived here all my life but never came across this animal before. There is a 20 acre forest about 300m away.
    I came across your blog whilst looking up the images.
    Keep up your good work.

    Gerry Heery

    • Thanks for sharing the story Gerry. Certainly sounds like a pine marten from your description. Would love to see one — one of my “most wanted” species. 🙂

  3. Billy Clancy says:

    Hello All
    Pine martens seem to have become well established in Mid Tipperary. A fine big one ran across the road in front of my car yesterday in the middle of the day. Two younger ones were killed on the road near the same spot last year. There are plenty of trees nearby but there is about 100 metres of a stone lined covered culvert at the spot which I suspect is being used. Previously the only live ones I had seen were juveniles captured in mink traps so maybe if people want to see one they should find out if anyone is trapping mink locally and ask to be notified if a pine marten is caught. Also is it true that pine martens have been released in areas to control grey squirrels? Billy

    • Thanks Billy. Great to hear that pine martens are doing well in Tipp.

      I haven’t heard of any schemes to use pine martens to control grey squirrels in Ireland.

  4. Edward W Delaney says:

    Hi Calvin,
    Just came across your site while looking up” Pine Marten.”
    I have been photographing the Pine Marten for the last few weeks just outside New Ross, on the Kilkenny Carlow border.I know of at least four locations in the general area where they have been seen.
    Regards,
    Edward

  5. Patrick Mulligan says:

    I think this might be a Pine Marten I recorded in Co.Cavan, our house is approx 300m from a lake with decidious woodland around it

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fbnXxGGoM8

  6. I live in rural Leitrim near Fort Lough. There are idigenous woodlands as well as Pine plantations around here. We have frequent siting of Pinemartens. We have even been lucky enough to see a pair on our patio. However we wondered why we never saw squirrels until the other day… we have now had two sightings of red squirrels.

  7. On Tuesday 13th November at about 9am a cat sized creature crossed the road in front of me near the entrance to Clones Golf Course, Co Monaghan. This area adjoins the Hilton Estate. The creature was dark gray or brown in colour with a long bushy tail. Bigger than a ferret and smaller than an otter. From the pictures I’ve looked up since then it looks very like a Pine Marten.

  8. Mark Doyle says:

    Hi i enjoyed reading your article about the Pine Marten im trying to catch Mink in the Westport area in Co Mayo with a Cage trap i caught a Pine Marten 2wks ago beside the lake in Westport House such a lovely animal no one i said it to knew they were there only meant to be 2700 in the country but think there is alot more as i caught another one today at a different location i was sure it was a mink due the marten been so rare and it was soaked wet so i ended up having it in my kitchen for over an hour to warm it up n dry before a parks officer who lives near bye had a look i knew it was a pine marten once i got it home n looked on the net it looked nearly whitish been wet totally quiet in the cage so we brought it back to where it was caught n let it go my lesson dont lay mink cage traps where there is mature woodland even tough it was on the banks of a river the officer said it was prob a female it wouldnt leave the cage unlike the 1st one i knew straight away it was a marten it was agressive to i let it go right away it was bigger than todays one n dry looked way nicer must hav been a male as they are larger great to see them close up

  9. Another site says “The pine marten is Ireland’s rarest wild animal.”
    Well that is certainly not true around here in south Leitrim.
    Pinemartens are frequently seen, (We live near loughs, woodland and pine forest).
    One of my cats was bitten in the neck. The vet in Mohill said he frequently has cats killed this way by pinemartens.

  10. We life in Newport, Co Mayo near the sea, fields and woodland and one has just come up to our sitting room window where we have a bird feeder stuck to it , containing seeds and fat balls.
    We heard the noise and pulled up the blind it didn’t go but continued eating away until it knocked the fat ball to the ground. Not sure if it was male or female but I’m sure it will be back!

  11. Gerry Byrne says:

    Hi Calvin,
    We live about 3 kms outside Cootehill, Co Cavan. We have bird feeders in the hedgerow beside the window in the conservatory. This evening we had a Pine Marten visit and he spent a good ten minutes eating the fat balls hanging from a tree.

    Our house is about 1km from a coniferous plantation and a river nearby. He ate all the fat balls but I replaced them in the hope that he might come back. Fingers crossed!

  12. Gerry Heery says:

    Hi Calvin
    I came across a pine marten killed on the N3 at Lavey, Co. Cavan today.
    Two weeks ago I saw another dead at the Beehive near Mountainlodge.
    It seems their numbers are on the increase.
    Gerry Heery

  13. mike dennehy says:

    i found a large male pinemartin dead on the road adjacent to blarney castle today
    beautiful animal. shame to see it killed in such a way

  14. Just 2 days ago I saw my first pine marten as I was driving to Kinsale. My GF, my 8 year old daughter and I saw this beautiful animal as it ran across the road just in front of our car. It came out of a bushy area and went into somebody’s front yard where it hid. Just barely a mile off the entrance to Kinsale Co. Cork.

    • Wow! Fantastic to hear reports of them in West Cork Frank… they’re still scarce enough in this neck of the woods — but if they’re in Kinsale, they’re bound to be down here near me too — best keep my eyes peeled!

  15. eddie scott says:

    saw a pine martin in rathowen county Westmeath , about 8.30 am Monday 3rd june , it jumped onto my windowsill so I have lots of pictures

  16. Are the pinemartin found in Donegal also ? Never seen one but im always around the forestry on the look out for red deer

  17. Marty Lynch says:

    I saw a Pine Martin last night on the Ballyjamesduff road about 6 miles out from Cavan Town. I didn’t know what it was at first. It had the face of a kitten, but had a long bushy tail, like a squirrel. I stopped the car to look. It looked back at me for about 30 seconds. Then it jumped into a gap in the hedge and was gone in a flash. I saw pictures this evening of a Pine Martin and now I know that this was definitely what I saw.

  18. hello my name is noel
    I have video clips of pine martins captured on a trail cam, over a few nights (north meath)
    and i found a dead marten a few months ago (roadkill).
    never seen them around here befour.

  19. Hi Calvin,
    Do you know of any sightings in East Cork? I’d love to try shoot one. (photograph that is)

    • Hi Fergal,

      They’re pretty thin on the ground in Cork I think… although there are a few sightings out west. They are spreading into new areas though so worth keeping your eyes peeled for signs in suitable habitat. I think from East Cork heading up into Waterford would be your best bet… I know there are a few woodlands up there where they are seen regularly.

      You’ll find details of reported sightings on the National Biodiversity Data Centre mapping system here http://maps.biodiversityireland.ie/#/Species/119469 although its worth bearing in mind that pine martens are generally a very secretive and elusive species, so could well occur over a wider area and remain unreported.

  20. Frankie finneran says:

    Just saw one of the wee buggers at the top of layde rd cushendall.

  21. Jennie says:

    Had to slow my car today to leave a Pine Marten cross the road into what looked like a well worn path. Got the impression it was an older male (size of a Tom cat and ears were ragged). On the border of kilkenny/tipperary between callan and ballingarry.

  22. Selena Wilkes says:

    Just saw a mother pine martin and three youngsters walking along the road between Enfield and Trim in Meath. Slowed down to shoo them into the field, as there are lots of trucks on that road. The youngsters showed little fear. Made my day!

  23. Just saw a pine marten in my back garden and drive way here in Westport Co mayo. He disappeared into the thickets very quickly …I usually have a lot of birds visiting the feeder but it’s gone awful quiet.

  24. stephen Lynam says:

    These amazing creatures are highly intelligent, I have one that comes to feed from our bin and ive watched him open the bin and climb in and out, its something that the cleverest dog couldn’t manage,

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