A Red Fox in Motion

The day after I posted “A Red Fox in Late Winter”, the neighborhood Red Fox burst onto the scene again. It seemed to appear out of nowhere, chasing squirrels that were feasting on birdseed.

This sequence of images begins immediately after the fox jumped high in the air, trying to nab a squirrel as it raced up a wooden light pole. Another squirrel catches its eye, it gives chase again, misses again, then investigates brush piles and moves on.

Photos by NB Hunter (Feb. 19, 2019). © All rights reserved.


A Red Fox in Late Winter

I first saw the mature Red Fox hunting around the yard in the dim light of early morning about a week ago. Our backyard wildlife habitat – spruce trees, brush piles, stone walls and a continuous supply of bird seed – supports abnormally high populations of prey species, so the presence of a small mammal predator wasn’t a surprise.

A fox looks a bit like a long-legged dog with a long, bushy tail. On the other hand, their hunting behavior – moving with great speed and agility, climbing, leaping and pouncing – is very cat-like.

There’s always a concern about diseases like sarcoptic mange and rabies (both fatal) in foxes, but this one appeared to be very healthy. The thick, fluffy winter coat is a thing of beauty, and also deceptive. A dog with this outward appearance might weigh 30 pounds, a fox less than half that.

In late winter, an opportunistic feeder like a fox will eat just about anything in front of its nose that contains precious calories, including carrion. Woodpeckers hammering into a suet (animal fat) bird feeder on the pole send small pieces flying to the ground. The fox wasn’t about to let the fallen suet go to waste.

Foxes have incredible senses; they can hear a mouse or vole under a foot of snow cover! Here, I was shooting from inside the house, doors and windows closed, 60 feet from the pole. And I’m convinced that this curious look is a response to my camera shutter.

I think this is a male (“dog”) but can’t be sure. Males are a bit larger than females (“vixen”). A pregnant female would be about a month along with her 52-day gestation period. Either way, I’m hoping for more opportunities to document the behavior of our neighborhood Red Fox.

Photos by NB Hunter (Feb. 9 and 16, 2019). All rights reserved.

A Wildlife Smorgasbord, Served Cold

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe”   – John Muir

Squirrels, both red and gray, are frequent visitors to our bird feeders. But, they must do more than eat: avoid being eaten! A Red Fox has also been cruising the neighborhood, and small mammals are a dietary staple.

Morning doves, as many as two dozen, flutter in to feed several times a day. But, they too have natural enemies. Cooper’s hawks learn to hunt bird feeders (their fly-through restaurant), and doves are a favorite target.

Coyotes prey on deer, especially young, old and unhealthy ones. However, the greatest threat to deer in winter is a population that exceeds the carrying capacity of the habitat. Over time, excessive browsing by hungry deer destroys the forest understory, which has an adverse, domino effect on plant and animal diversity.

The dense vegetation in this scene is misleading. It obviously provides bedding cover, but is virtually devoid of palatable food.

Pileated woodpeckers are thriving in our woodlands, especially where tree mortality from ash decline, beech bark disease and other pests is high. Large dead and dying trees provide habitat for woodpeckers to drill for food and create nest cavities. Later, the excavations become critical nesting habitat for dozens of bird and mammal species – including the Tufted Titmouse.

When winters are severe, with heavy snow cover, a “winter thaw” can be the difference between life and death for wildlife. Turkeys are one species that benefit greatly from a warm spell in mid winter because they mainly forage on the ground.

In winter, blackbirds form large flocks that waste little time finding concentrated food sources. Barn yards and farm fields are favorite dining locations.

Photos by NB Hunter (Jan. – Feb., 2019). © All rights reserved.