Foxes are wily and sly creatures in literature—clever and dishonest. In Aesop's fables, a fox tries to eat grapes but can't reach them, proclaiming the grapes sour. The dishonest fox will not admit defeat, marking the origin of “sour grapes.”
In Disney's Fox and the Hound, a fox named Tod undergoes a number of missteps in a coming-of-age story where he becomes enemies with his childhood hunting dog friend. Here the film makes clear that it is the humans who mistrust and hunt the fox, rather than anything inherent to the fox.
Werner Herzog's documentary Grizzly Man depicts a man (Timothy Treadwell) perhaps too trusting of nature. Treadwell interacts with a family of foxes, and Herzog narrates: “as a filmmaker sometimes things fall into your lap which you couldn't expect, never even dream of. There is something like an inexplicable magic of cinema.” The foxes dance around Treadwell and steal his hat as he curses them back to their den, where the hat stays.
Perhaps the fox is all of the above: cunning, playful, innocent, and sly.
There's much to be said of playful red foxes. Charles Long, in The Wild Mammals of Wisconsin, calls fox kits at the den “an aesthetic blessing of nature.” In Wisconsin, red foxes (one of two native foxes, the other the gray fox) are breeding throughout the state.
By March or April, litters of 4-5 kits occupy dens on sand or gravel substrate. Dens may be adopted and modified from badger of woodchuck burrows. Foxes may even co-habituate a den with a badger or another family of foxes.
Foxes are capable of thriving in fragmented landscapes and as such have an excellent status throughout the state. Between woodland, grassland, stripcover, pasture, and fencerow, foxes will make a den and a home range. Ranges can cover an impressive 1,200 acres (about the size of Faville Grove), but in ecologically diverse areas will range from 142-400 acres (more likely at Faville Grove given the diversity of habitats). Territories will be patrolled about every other week and are defended with scent (urine). If a standoff ensues, chasing is most likely and physical altercation is extremely rare.
Michigan and Wisconsin are said to have some of the highest fox harvests in the world. Trappers caught 4,708 foxes in 2014 with an average pelt price of $20.81. Trapping is a supplemental source of income for farmers, trappers, landowners, and Native Americans throughout the state. The highest recorded harvest of red foxes occurred in 1960 at 54,090 foxes. The average pelt price that year was $10.57 when adjusted for inflation. 1978 saw the highest average price ($248.18) and a harvest of 32,581 foxes.
Red foxes eat about five pounds of food per day and will cache food for later consumption, marking the area of cached food with urine. Foxes are opportunistic and will eat almost anything, but frequently feed on rabbits, voles, and mice.
Come visit Faville Grove this winter after a fresh snowfall and look for fox tracks, among the many other mammals and birds leaving signs of their presence. We've been seeing fox, muskrat, squirrel, otter, deer, rabbit, and possibly weasel tracks throughout the sanctuary. Tracking is an excellent way to learn the ecology and habits of a species. Fox tracks have four toes on both the fore and hind prints and are about two inches wide. About a week ago, I stumbled upon a red fox running away from me, barking as it ran. Following the tracks was a mesmerizing experience, like reading a journal entry in some long-forgotten language.
You can visit the sanctuary at any time, or join us on Feb. 13 for our Midwinter Snowshoe field trip!
By Drew Harry, Faville Grove Land Steward