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.
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.
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.