Wildlife has a wonderful way of surprising us with something remarkable that makes you smile, gasp or just gives you a really warm glow. It doesn’t matter how long you have been enjoying nature, there are always new things to see, or familiar things doing new things or in different places. When they are on your doorstep, they become very special memories indeed. 

I was working from home last Friday and was on the first of two calls I had to make. I walked over to my living room window where the reception is best and suddenly noticed something scampering through the flowerbed I had filled with dead leaves. I suspected it might be a rat, but something about its low-slung appearance made me hope it could be something rather more interesting.

Then, there it was, sitting up on top of the huge pile of roof tiles I have stacked in the corner of the garden by the shed, left over from our extension work – an absolutely fabulous weasel!

Weasels really are small - up to 20cm long, so the size of a decent saveloy (David Kjaer rspb-images.com)

This was a first for the garden and the first weasel I’d seen it quite some time. For the next hour, and across two telephone calls, it paraded right outside the window, frequently returning to the tile pile and squeezing in and out of various gaps and holes.

Perhaps the most remarkable sight was when a wave of house mice suddenly scuttled out from under the shed and out across the garden – no doubt flushed out by the weasel.

Weasels are really very small which means they are experts in getting into the small spaces and tunnels occupied by rodents.

Stoats are bigger, more bouncy and with a black tip to their tail (Ben Andrew rspb-images.com)

Weasel or stoat?
I was really lucky to have such a long, protracted look at the weasel, so it was easy to see all the key points. Often though, views are brief as they scurry across the road, or path, in front of you. Here are seven top tips for telling a stoat from a weasel

  • Look at the tail first and get into the habit. If it has a black tip, it’s a stoat. If it is all red-brown, that’s a weasel.
  • Weasels give the impression of a saveloy on legs due to being low to the ground.
  • Stoats look “bouncier” than weasels when they are running. They bound and bend their backs while weasels are very direct and scuttling.
  • Weasels are quite a bit smaller than stoats although this is of course hard to judge on a lone animal. With experience of both, you can start to put this one to good use.
  • Stoats have a longer tail than weasels.
  • Weasels often have brown patches on their white throat.
  • The stoat’s brown/white line division underneath is straighter than the weasel's, which the two photographs above show nicely.

Seen something good?
If you've seen something special, please keep your reports and stories coming to natureshome@rspb.org.uk