Foxes! The very word was the mating cry of those two “wild and crazy [Czech] guys,” Georg and Yortuk Festrunk (played by Steve Martin and Dan Ackroyd), of long-ago Saturday Night Live fame. And it was our surprised cry today when Jane went out to get the paper about 7:20 a.m., right about sunrise on a freezing, clear morning.
What Jane first spotted was one fox, lying down right in the middle of Academy Street, somewhat downhill from our door, about opposite the next-door-neighbor’s driveway. I grabbed my trusty Bushnell 12 x 25 binoculars, now always at the ready as part of my urban naturalist mode. The fox was just lying there, head up and alert, and making a sort of continuing barking noise. We wondered if the fox was injured or sick, though it did not appear to be. Then we saw another fox, sitting silently by the bushes directly across the street from the first. And closer examination showed there was yet a third, reclining just behind the sitting one. They were both regarding the barking one with interest, though not hostility. (This was very much like what occurred when a cat came to visit us while Isabel and Calvin were in their prime. The female visitor, a former resident, was on her guard and hissing, but our two looked at her with mild curiosity.)
After a few minutes a car came along. The one lying in the street immediately got up and came to the lawn next door to us, keeping its eyes on the other, and continuing the noise. The two across the street shifted positions slightly but stood their ground.
After a few more minutes a woman walking a large white dog started up the street from Jackson Parkway. She hadn’t seen the vulpine drama, but began to notice it. She turned around and went back downhill. But that action broke the spell for the two across the street. They both stood up, revealing that the reclining one was slightly larger than the other two. All of them were adult, beautifully colored, and healthy looking. The two loped toward the back yard of the house they were in front of, then turned right and ran across the front of the next house up the street. The other one ran across the street, joined them, and they all went around the corner of the house and disappeared. Shortly thereafter Jane’s walking friends came, and one of them checked out the back yard of the house they’d disappeared behind. She saw two of them rolling around in the grass.
We soon went online to learn more about what this activity might have been. We learned that foxes have at least twelve vocalizations, some for confrontation and some for communication. Some sources say there are as many as 40 recorded sounds. What we heard may well have been what’s called “gekkering,” an ongoing noise rather than a cry, sort of like the “cackle” cats can make when they see would-be prey through a window. Foxes often make it in confrontational situations. One site said that male foxes “yip,” while female foxes “yap.” I wondered if that’s anthropomorphizing the fox. We also learned that December and January are mating season, and that foxes often pair off for the year, and may continue the pairing, though not with complete fidelity, for quite a few years. We learned that they live in dens only for giving birth and raising the kits, and that they are pretty much solitary for the rest of the year, sleeping in the open.
Our amateur analysis of the situation speculates that the fox in the street was a submissive one, either a male in a rival’s territory, or a female expressing hostility to the idea of courtship. Why the two others, rather than one? We’re not so sure about that, unless they were already a bonded couple. Judging from size, and noting that males tend to be a bit larger than vixens, the two together might have been a couple, and the one in the street the “odd vixen out.” It would seem there’s a high probability that the situation had something to do with mating. So the cry “Foxes!” turns out to fit both the wild and crazy antics of the Festrunk brothers and this morning’s nature drama. In this case, three very wild foxes. But only crazy like, um, a fox.
©Arnold J. Bradford, 2013.