Sharp-eyed and Bushy Tailed

This week’s blog was written by Liam B., a Gobblers and Bass alumni. Liam is a junior in high school who has attended the Wildlife Leadership Academy as both a student and an assistant team leader over the past two summers. He has participated in WLA mainly due to to his interest in wildlife overall, and notably ornithology. He plans to attend college and afterwards pursue a career with the game commission.

The Red Fox is a common sight here in Pennsylvania later in the year, especially while driving through or near our many forests. However, they have started to crop up here much earlier, some sightings occurring in December and even January, frolicking their way through fields or crossing the roads from one patch of vegetation to the next. While this behavior is somewhat concerning, as the Red Fox is not usually active during this time of year, it provides a better view into the lives of these orange-furred ruffians and why they fascinate people across the world.

The Red Fox (or Vulpes vulpes), which originated from Eurasia, made its way over to North America via the landbridge connection to Alaska. They were also introduced into Australia to deal with an invasive species, rabbits, which had started to decimate farmers’ crops and the native wildlife, with varying levels of success. They have since spread out and established a foothold there. This is in no small part to their extreme adaptability.

A photo of a fox in the woods

They are generalistic omnivores, being able to eat just about anything, from small mammals and birds to nuts and berries. They are active during the twilight hours and the dead of night, giving them even more opportunities to find food. They have been known to cache food for lean periods of the year as well. They often outcompete other fox species due to their resourcefulness.

They have powerful senses and can use these senses to great effect, due to their striking smarts. They have incredible hearing; they are able to detect voles moving under several layers of snow and pinpoint their exact location. Then, they leap high into the air and dive headfirst into the snow where their prey is located. This strategy, despite its somewhat goofy appearance, works surprisingly well, as they usually get their prey. Their slender frame allows them to get into just about anywhere potential food may be. This is where conflicting opinions about the red fox come into play.

Here is a fox shown after diving headfirst into a snow drift in search of prey

Due to their ability to easily break into anything and their surprising willingness to engage in surplus killing, they have been despised by those who keep chickens and similar fowl. This is because foxes often sneak into chicken coops and end up killing most of the birds inside. Similarly, they have also been known to kill pet rabbits and end up competing with outdoor cats for food. This has earned them the ire of most European countries. Where they have been introduced to deal with invasive species, they often become a larger problem than the original organism, as seen in Australia where they have caused damage to native bird and marsupial populations. However, in Asia, they are seen as guardians and are associated with a god of agriculture. In some Native American mythologies, they are seen as companions to the equally wily and sly Coyote. In the modern day, some foxes have even been domesticated as pets, with varying levels of success.

Red foxes are widely distributed animals, appearing throughout nearly all of the Northern Hemisphere, either natively or as an introduced species, and are either reviled or revered by humanity. Sometimes they are conniving, shrewd tricksters. Other times, they are wise and helpful spirits. One thing is consistent, however. Their remarkable intelligence is always present across their representations.

The photos used in this blog were sourced from the internet. They can be found here and here.