Feeding Foxes

Our community web discussion site, Nextdoor Dunn Loring, has been having an interesting discussion about foxes and coyotes in our larger neighborhood.  Some motion-sensor security systems lately have been triggered by canine creatures, and the discussion began as a quest to verify if said canines were coyotes or foxes.  Everybody weighed in, and everybody had their two cents’ worth of opinion, some better informed than others.  Some posted pictures they’d taken in their backyards, others described encounters on the bike trail, and one provided a fine shot of a “hunted coyote,” which is to say a dead animal posed as if at rest in front of the gleeful hunter, proud that he had used his hundreds of dollars of equipment and his constitutional right to take life from a wild creature for the sheer fun of it.  At least that image of a coyote was less blurry than any of the photos of living ones.

Discussion tangents sprouted:  what were their habits, where do they live, what do they eat, so many foxes have mange.  Turns out that a number of folks in our area feed foxes, and at least one does so in an effort to medicate mange.  I checked fox mange out on the internet months ago.  Mange is indeed common in foxes, and there’s a sure and easy medication for it.  But it has to be administered twice, at intervals, which as I recall is about two weeks apart.  And wildlife management folks are understandably unable logistically to trap, medicate, hold, re-medicate, and release individual animals.  The deadly problem is that mangy foxes can’t regulate their body temperature because they lose too much hair, so they’re apt to succumb to heat or especially cold.

fox on patio

Immature fox on our patio, 2017

The discussion evolved into whether it was a good idea to feed wild animals like foxes and coyotes; those who do medicate lure their local foxes by leaving out meat laced with the med.  They assume that individual foxes will get the medication at good intervals because the same ones inhabit the local territory and feed at the same places.  Some people think it’s utterly wrong, bordering on illegal, to feed them, while others see no harm in helping “their” foxes thrive in a crowded suburban environment.

We never put food out for our foxes.  Frankly, we prefer to encourage them to keep down the local squirrel and chipmunk (and I’m sure mouse and vole) populations.  And I call them “ours” because we see them on their daily rounds going diagonally across the backyard of the property behind us, and using both our east and west property lines to get to Academy Street, where they often walk right down the middle of the street in early morning or late evening.  When it snows, they invariably leave tracks that show they often walk behind our foundation plantings to the driveway, and then use it to go straight to the street. And in cold, snowy winter the hunting gets more difficult for them, surely.  We always root for them, and the local red-shouldered and red-tailed hawks, to get enough kills to make it to springtime.

The other day, though, we got to help the foxes out actively.  Sometime between 7:10, when we fetched to morning paper from the sidewalk, and 9:30, when we were getting ready to go to Adult Study at church, a dying squirrel appeared on our front walk.  How it got there and why it was dying remain a mystery.  As Jane said, it looked like it had fallen from a great height; it was splayed out, its eyes wide open, gasping for breath.  It would take a big, deep breath of air, and then in another couple of seconds, another one.  When I approached it, it looked at me directly with bright black eye, but it did not move its body.  It was too far from the road and too bloodless to have been hit by a car; it didn’t have the erratic jerking moves that I associate with poison or illness; it was not mangled as though it had been hunted, taken, and then dropped by some larger animal or bird.

A couple of hours later, when we got back after Adult Study, it had died.  It lay there, its beady eye now mostly closed and dim, its only motion when a gust of freezing wind shook its tail.  I got the long-handled shovel, put the gray body out back right where the fox trail runs along our line, and said goodbye.  An hour later, the squirrel had vanished without a trace.  It could have been another animal or a raptor of course, but I’m pretty certain we helped one fox just a little bit to get the nourishment and calories it needs to make it through the bleak days of January.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2019.

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