Outfoxed

I’m fortunate. I get to see lots of wildlife where I live, adjacent to a national forest in Idaho’s mountains.

While I rank the wolf – including the one I was privileged to see in its natural environment back in 2006 – as my favorite animal among the local wildlife, red foxes are a close second.

The fact that wolves, foxes and dogs all belong to the canine (canidae) family probably has something to do with it.

Foxes are far more numerous than wolves in these parts, and easy to spot, very willing to come near homes in their search for food. I admit when I first moved here I thought they were coyotes with a really odd vocalization, like a scream.

A fox interacting, cautiously, with a dog.

I quickly learned to tell the difference between foxes and coyotes, both visually and by their calls.

And their tails! So fluffy. Sadly, it’s easy to see why those who enjoy wearing dead animal pelts as a fashion statement would kill foxes for their fur.

According to Wikipedia, the word fox comes from Old English, which is derived from Proto-Germanic fuhsaz which in turn derives from Proto-Indo-European puḱ-, meaning “thick-haired; tail.” Male foxes are known as dogs, tods or reynards, females as vixens, and their young as cubs, pups, or kits. A group of foxes is referred to as a skulk, leash, or earth. In the wild, their lifespan is short, typically one to three years although some might live to ten.

In Native American folklore, Fox is often a trickster companion to Coyote. In Celtic mythology, the fox is wise and cunning, knowing the forest better than anyone. “The Celtic fox is a shapeshifter who can switch between canine and human forms at will. This unique ability means the fox can easily slip in and out of places, especially those dangerous to anyone else. Foxes are also seducers, captivating unwitting souls with their charm and good looks.” Nature Canada.

No wonder I like them.

Foxes, including the red fox, are found throughout the world. The red fox is extremely adaptable, even thriving in suburban North American landscapes where they often cause problems because they sometimes prey on pets and small livestock. They’re fast and light on their feet, able to outrun dogs but sometimes become prey to cougar or other large predators. Wolves tend to ignore them because they don’t compete for the same food sources but wolves will chase fox away from a kill, unwilling to share. Humans are a fox’s worst and most-deadly enemy.

Conall has lost all patience with foxes that come near the house. As a young dog he would sit and observe them through the yard fence when they made a rare appearance, maybe woof softly a couple times. Over the past year, though, he’s begun expressing his umbrage at being taunted. And he is being taunting; I’ve watched. I’m not certain it’s always the same fox, but based on behavior, its use of the same routes across my lot, and Conall’s reaction, I’m petty sure it is. The fox is well aware Conall is watching but hardly bats an eye no matter how loudly Conall barks, having learned its an empty threat. Even when I join Conall in the yard, the fox just gives me a quick glance and then returns to hunting.

While I don’t know, I like to think this fox is a she, a vixen. It fits.

Here’s a series of photos from December 7, 2019 when this edgy relationship between vixen and Conall started. Both dogs were in the house when Conall noticed a fox moving across the field, alerting me. I grabbed my phone. Conall dashed through the dog door and across the deck toward the fence, followed closely by Finn, making enough of a racket to startle her into running away.

A year later? She pays them no mind. The vixen has outfoxed the boys.

Clearly she knows that she’s safe from my dogs, and since hunting isn’t allowed in my subdivision, she really has little to fear. While foxes hunt primarily at night, this vixen is quite calm and unconcerned searching for voles in my field during the day. Plus, I think she gets a kick out of getting Conall riled up. Life for her and her kind is far more precarious in the national forest or in the pastures in the valley below us because foxes – and coyotes – are considered vermin in Idaho and can be shot or trapped at any time. And they are.

With snow on the ground, it’s easier for me to observe this fox as she hunts. Conall always alerts me to her presence, daytime or nighttime. In the past couple of months the fox has been around a lot, so much so I’ve had to block the dog door at night to keep Conall from disrupting my sleep (and that of the neighbors) with his loud barking.

Recently (including this morning) I’ve been able to get some decent video of the fox hunting. I love watching her pounce and how she wags her tail when she succeeds, or thinks she’s about to. Conall exhibits the exact same behaviors when he hunts voles in the yard or on our walks in the valley.

Fox hunting and succeeding, December 15, 2020.
Fox hunting voles on a crisp, clear, frosty morning (temperature 4F), December 24, 2020.

These photos and images are my holiday gift to you, dear readers. I love sharing the natural beauty around me, hoping that people are inspired to help preserve and protect our beautiful earth and all the life it nurtures. Enjoy.

Happy holidays to you – whichever one(s) you may observe this time of year!

Feature photo and other photos of foxes courtesy of Dan O’Malley who lives in this area and is regularly visited by fox at his home. I shared his photos of a deer saving a bird from one of his cats here, and that piece ends with a local news video about this fox photos.

22 thoughts on “Outfoxed”

  1. The first fox I saw was here even though they are all over the mountains I CA where I hiked nearly every day after I moved up there. Gray foxes up there are more common than red. Here the fox I saw came out of the fog on a winter day. She was such a wondrous thing that Dusty didn’t even bark at her and Bear, of course, was silent. Another time I saw her she seemed to be trying to get us to play with her. I’ve watched her hunt, too. Bear goes crazy in winter when the golf course is empty and the fox can easily use it as a thoroughfare to some easier food near the houses. Today I took the kids out and showed them the fox tracks in the snow. I love her. She’s magical and beautiful.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Aren’t they gorgeous? And yes, a bit playful, knowing they can outrun if necessary.

      It’s fun to watch Conall sniff fox and coyote tracks when we’re in the forest. Some tracks are old and boring. Others, he moves fast and excitedly as he sniffs each fresh print, looking up to scan the near landscape in the direction he knows they went, sure he’ll see whomever left the scent. I wouldn’t know they were fresh except for his reaction.

      I am getting a bit tired of this ongoing dispute between Conall the the vixen, though. So noisy, on Conall’s part. It’s a bit like Groundhog Day, or the definition of insanity: doing the same thing expecting a different result! Time for me to up the training on “Leave it!”

      Liked by 2 people

  2. That featured photo is superb. And that first video is also very interesting, I’d never heard a fox scream like that before. Golden jackals are what we have here, and they have a loud howl now and then. It is interesting that your vixen seems quicker than Conall.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wish I could take credit for the fox photos, but they’re courtesy of a local friend, Dan O’Malley. He’s a fox whisperer.

      I had to look up “golden jackal” having never heard of them. They look like a cross between our local foxes and coyotes. Cool to learn about another member of the canid family!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. When I first moved to my home in 2005, I had no experience with foxes. I lived in a city. One night, near midnight, I heard a baby crying in the woods behind my house. Completely freaked out, I put on jeans and boots an prepared to go rescue the child, even though the woods were all but impassable during the day and I had no idea how I would get through at night. Lucky for me, the crying stopped and I didn’t go looking because I’d have no idea where to look. Of course I later learned that it was a fox. I’ve actually never heard that sound again in the 15 years I’ve lived here. Creepy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jeff, I’m laughing at your story, but I can totally relate, as the first time I heard that scream I thought, what the hell? When a few days later I actually saw the creature emitting that scream, just beyond a temporary wire mesh fence, I thought it was a really pissed off coyote, mad that my dogs suddenly appeared in its territory. My dogs – from the city, like me – were just as puzzled as I was! Mostly, they’re quiet; I hear coyotes yipping and barking way more than a fox’s scream.

      I’m just sorry you don’t hear foxes in your area anymore. Any idea why?

      Like

  4. Great videos of the hunt! I especially loved the wagging tail. A few years ago I set up a trail camera in the yard. Other than squirrels, the first wild animal to notice it was a fox. She stared at it until it turned off. In October of this year we had a fox, a coyote, a racoon, possums, skunks and a flock of turkeys. Imagine all the barking opportunities for Conall! We’ve never seen a bobcat or a bear on camera, but I keep hoping.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve been tempted to set up a trail cam here, although I’m pretty sure Conall alerts me to most of the critters. Besides, I’m not sure I want to know how many skunk swing by; I’ve already had to bathe skunk spray off Conall and the side of my house too many times!

      Spotting a bobcat and/or bear would be awesome!

      If you haven’t seen these trail cam videos of wildlife crossing a log bridge in the Pennsylvania woods, give them a look (this is “Year 2”): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsDU_tTgsFw Fascinating, the variety of wildlife!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. So now I know what a fox sounds like. That was great. Toby was sitting with me and did not bat an eye with the screaming sound of the fox. That surprised me. They are gorgeous.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Crazy sound, right? I’m surprised Toby didn’t react, too. Maybe because he’s never heard one in real time? When I played it on my computer as I put that post together, both dogs immediately jumped up and crashed through the dog door into the yard, in search of the invader! 🙂

      Like

  6. Kitsune- the Japanese word for fox. They are a big part of Japanese folklore, having mysterious powers and growing more mysterious and wise as they age. They rarely come into populated areas. I love them too.

    Like

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