Following up on a lead, I contacted Mike and Laurie to inquire about the red foxes that were raising a family under the small storage barn on their rural property. At one time or another, they had seen 4 pups (kits) playing outside their den, beginning in mid April.
I had one successful visit, seeing the mother (vixen) and two of her pups in late evening sunlight. Initially, the pups were exploring near the entrance of the den, not venturing far or into full view. However, when mom drifted into sight everything changed: it was feeding time, and the pups were off to the races!
Using the first sighting of the pups in mid April as a guide, one can assume that they were conceived around January 20 and born about 51 days later, on March 12. Pups generally emerge from the den to explore and play about five weeks after birth – which would be mid April.
Since all four pups were seen together, days before and again after my visit on April 28th, I speculate that the storage barn was the main den, and the other two pups were at a nearby, temporary den. The latter was an abandoned woodchuck burrow. Foxes are good diggers and very adept at customizing a burrow to suit their needs. .
The black feet or “booties” and white-tipped tail of a red fox are diagnostic for the species. The typical color of the upper body and head is orange-red, but there is much variation. Color phases include black, silver, gray and a two-toned pattern of reddish and gray.
The pups nursed for ten to fifteen minutes before mom got restless and decided to move on. Foxes are very active in the dim light of dusk and dawn (crepuscular), and it would soon be time to hunt. The male would be hunting too – both parents participate in child-rearing.
Young foxes will generally stay with their mother until fall or early winter. Then, the young males disperse far and wide. Juvenile females are less predictable: some stay with their parents for a year or more and have even been known to assist with future litters.
This last photo, separate from the previous ones in time and place, captured an adult and juvenile in mid September. It was a friendly squabble, possibly a little tough love to encourage the youngster to hunt elsewhere and learn to fend for itself.
Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.