Voice

All the weasels are capable of making a range of sounds, which no doubt mean much more to other weasels than to us. Yet, some of the messages these sounds convey are quite unmistakable even to our ears (Huff & Price 1968; Svendsen 1976). A weasel that feels slightly uneasy will make a low hissing sound, often while retreating into a safe place, which indicates low-intensity fear or threat. If the danger is more pressing, the weasel will probably turn and stand its ground, making a series of sharp, explosive barks or chirps, loud enough and aggressive enough to deter all but the most steely nerved attacker. Taken unawares, 9 out of 10 people will jump out of their skins at the sudden noise. If the danger is really acute and all retreat cut off, such as when a weasel is cornered or trapped, the chirp escalates into a prolonged defensive screech, or a really pitiful wail often accompanied by a "stink-bomb" (Chapter 8).

At the other end of the scale is a low-intensity, high-pitched trilling sound, often heard during friendly encounters between mates, or when a mother is calling to her young (pp. 223, 224, 309). Occasionally it may be heard from exceptionally tame hand-reared weasels playing with a trusted human companion. According to Huff and Price (1968), young weasels give high-pitched squeaks at birth, which are replaced by the adult chirps at 4 weeks of age; trills are added at 5 to 7 weeks. Another sound, best described as a medium-pitched, medium intensity "zheep" or "zhzhzhzhp" in longtails, less harsh in stoats, is used between mates and at other times when a weasel appears interested. It is a vocalization of an alert, distinctly interested but unworried weasel, made with the mouth wide open, almost smiling (Figure 2.6). Both male and female longtails and stoats use this vocalization, but only when in brown, summer coat (R.A. Powell, unpubl.). One male longtail zheeped every day one summer and fall, abruptly stopped upon molting to white, and abruptly started again when his spring molt back to brown was complete. The reasons for this sudden, reversible change are among the many things we still do not understand about these enchanting critters.

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