Category Archives: Red Fox

Red Fox biology and behavior on Kodiak Island

Red Fox

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The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a member of the Order Carnivora and the dog family Canidae. Red foxes occupy the largest geographic range of any member of the Carnivora, across the entire Northern Hemisphere, Central America, and Asia. The European red fox is the same species as the American red fox. There are currently 45 recognized subspecies of Vulpes vulpes, and while the classic image of a red fox may be a medium-sized canine with orange-red fur on its head, back, and sides; white fur on its chest and neck; black legs and feet; pointed black ears; and a long, bushy tail tipped in white, the reality is that the 45 subspecies differ greatly in size and color. Only the white tip on the tail distinguishes the red fox from other fox species. In addition to the differences in physical appearance between subspecies, members of the same red fox subspecies may have different color morphs. The three most common color morphs are red, silver/black, and cross. Color variations are more common in colder regions than they are in the southern parts of the range.

Red foxes are one of only six mammal species that are native to Kodiak Island, and the Kodiak red fox is a separate, distinct subspecies (Vulpes vulpes harrimani). Members of this subspecies are very large with a huge tail, coarse, thick fur on the lower back and tail, and a thick ruff around the neck and shoulders, especially in the winter. Most Kodiak red foxes are either cross foxes with a black/brown cross on the back and shoulders, or they are red in coloration. Silver foxes make up a smaller percentage of the population and are striking with black fur and silver-tipped guard hairs.

The red fox is the largest member of the true foxes. It has a head and body length that measures approximately 22 – 32 inches (56-82 cm), relatively short limbs, and a fluffy tail that is approximately 14 – 16 inches (36-43 cm) long. Adults weigh between 6 and 15 lbs. (2.7-6.8 kg), but the size and weight vary depending on the subspecies. The front paws of a red fox have five digits while the back feet have only four. Red foxes are capable of jumping over a six ft. (2 m) high fence and they can run nearly 30 mph (48.28 km/h).

The red fox has extremely good hearing and unlike other mammals, can hear low-frequency sounds very well, allowing it to detect small animals digging underground so it can dig the prey out of the dirt or snow. Although not as acute as its hearing, the red fox has a good sense of smell and binocular vision that reacts mainly to movement.

DSC_0168Anal and supra-caudal glands, as well as glands around the lips, jaws, and on the pads of the feet, allow foxes to leave and detect scents that may mark a territory or a food cache. Foxes use urine to mark their territories and food caches. A male raises one hind leg and sprays urine in front of him, while a female squats and sprays urine between her hind legs.

Red foxes are considered solitary, and they do not form packs like wolves. They often do live in family groups, though, with a dominant male and female and often a few subordinate foxes all sharing the same home range. Subordinate females may help guard, feed and care for the kits.

In Alaska, voles appear to be the food of choice for foxes, but the red fox is an omnivore and will eat fruits, berries, vegetation, insects, birds, rabbits, squirrels, and other small mammals. On Kodiak, it is common to see foxes on the beach feeding on sea urchins and other invertebrates and digging for worms. Red foxes are considered nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk), but they may be active at any time of the day, and on Kodiak, they are often most visible on the beaches during the morning and evening low tides. When hunting a vole, a fox locates the vole by sound and then jumps in the air and lands on its target much like a cat does. An adult red fox will eat between one and two pounds (.5 to 1.0 kgs.) a day.

 

 

 

 

 

Spring

Bald Eagle in Flight

According to the calendar it is spring, but in Alaska, we won’t see much evidence of spring for another six weeks. The days are getting longer, and when the sun shines, I can feel some warmth in its rays, but it easily could snow six inches tomorrow, and no one would be surprised if the temperature dropped into the low twenties or even the teens.

After an abnormally warm winter this year, I don’t mind waiting until late May for wildflowers and leaves, but before the first forget-me-not blooms, other signs of spring will be evident. Bald eagle pairs will soar, circle, dive, and even cartwheel during their mating rituals; schools of herring will arrive to lay and fertilize eggs; and baleen whales, seals, and sea lions will follow the tasty herring into the bays. I dream about sitting on our dock on a sunny day, watching whales and other sea mammals chase and feed on herring. Some years the show is spectacular, and other years, the herring run is insignificant, and the whales are absent. The red foxes are also active in the spring, and their haunting mating screams often awaken me. By early June, we should start seeing does and their newborn fawns. By then, the eagle pairs will be tending their nests as their eggs hatch and the chicks depend on them for a nearly constant supply of food.

I am busy this time of year getting the camp ready and the meals cooked for the spike camps for our spring hunting season. I also have a trip planned to visit my family in Kansas in mid-May, so I can watch two of my nephews graduate from high school. Meanwhile, my novel, Murder Over Kodiak, is being re-released by a small publishing company in Anchorage, so I’m preparing for another round of promotion, and that is hard work. The first thing I’m planning to do is to host a “virtual” book-release party on Facebook. I’ll write more about this next week. For now, I’m trying to learn everything I can about hosting a virtual party. It’s overwhelming, and I hope I’m not in over my head! I admit that I have an uncomfortable relationship with social media.DSC_0168

Between my day job, promoting my novel, keeping up with my blog and my mystery newsletter, working on my next novel and my other writing projects, and getting ready for a trip to visit my family, my spring will be busy. No matter how rushed I am, though, if the sun is shining, and the wind is calm, you can find me sitting on our dock, craning my neck to watch eagles circle and soar, and inhaling the sweet, salty scent of the low tide while scanning the beach for foxes eating clams and mussels. I’ll also be glancing hopefully at the ocean for roiling schools of herring, and listening for the powerful exhalations of large fin and humpback whales. Spring is my favorite time of year, and I am never too busy to enjoy it. I’ll let you know what I see.

Fin Whale near Kodiak Island

Tell me about your spring. I want to hear about the beautiful tulips, daffodils and other flowers already blooming in most places, or if you live in New Zealand or anywhere else in the southern hemisphere, how is your autumn?

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for my mystery newsletter. I am working on my next edition. Also, I apologize to anyone who has recently tried to order my novel Murder Over Kodiak. As I mentioned above, it is currently being re-released, and it will be available again soon with a bright, new, shiny cover. I’ll give you a sneak preview next week and tell you about my mixed emotions going from an indie author/publisher to working with a publishing house.

 

Reproduction for Deer, Foxes, and Goats

 

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Spring is an active time for Sitka black-tailed deer, red fox, and mountain goats on Kodiak, especially once the weather warms, the snow on the mountains begins to melt, and the vegetation starts to grow again.  All three species give birth in the spring, and while we rarely see nannies with their kids, we will soon start seeing does and fawns, and in a couple of months we’ll see young fox kits as they begin to play outside their dens.

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Sitka black-tailed deer bucks begin growing a new set of antlers in the spring, and I’ve seen several with little nubs beginning to grow.  During the spring and summer, the antlers receive a rich supply of blood and are covered by a fine membrane called “velvet”.  At this time, the antlers are very fragile and are vulnerable to cuts and bruises.  By August, antler growth slows, and they begin to harden, and a few weeks later, antler growth stops, blood flow to the antlers ceases, and the velvet dries up and falls off.

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Mating season on Kodiak for Sitka black-tailed deer occurs from mid-October to late November.  The gestation period is six to seven months, so fawns are born from late May through June.  Does begin breeding when they are two and continue to produce fawns until they are ten to twelve years old.  Does between the ages of five and ten are in their prime and usually produce two fawns a year.

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Newborn fawns weigh between 6.0 and 8.8 lbs. (2.7 to 4.0 kg), and for the first two weeks, a fawn produces no scent, allowing the doe to leave the fawn hidden and safe from predators, while she browses for food to rebuild her energy reserves after giving birth.

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Red foxes breed in February and March on Kodiak.  Right after mating, the female makes one or more dens, and the extra dens are used if the original is disturbed.  The den is a hole in the ground that measures approximately 15 by 20 ft. (4.57m x6.1m) and may have several entrances.  Inside the den, the female constructs a grass-lined nest where the babies are born.  The litter is born after a gestation period of 51 to 54 days, and an average litter consists of four kits; although, litters as large as ten are not uncommon.  Kits weigh 4 ounces (113 grams) at birth.  They have fur but are blind, deaf, and toothless.  A kit cannot regulate its body temperature when it is born, and the mother must remain with it all times for the first two to three weeks.  During this time, the father or adult females bring food to the mother.  If the mother dies before the kits are old enough to care for themselves, the father will take over as the primary provider.  The kits’ eyes open eight to ten days after birth, and they leave the den for the first time about a month later.  Kits begin hunting on their own when they are three months old.

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Breeding season for mountain goats occurs between late October and early December on Kodiak.  Mountain goats seem to avoid mating with relatives, and billies may travel long distances to find suitable mates.  Males breed with several females, but nannies breed with only one male.  Nannies do not give birth until they are at least four years old, and billies between the ages of five and ten do most of the breeding.  Nannies give birth in late May after a gestation period of 180 days, and they normally have only one kid, but sometimes produce twins.  Twinning is more common when goat populations spread into a new habitat with an abundant food supply, and as the goat population on Kodiak has increased and expanded its range, biologists have noticed more twinning than is normal.  Nannies seek out an isolated area to give birth but then form nursery groups with other nannies and kids.  The kid remains with its mother at least until the next breeding season and may stay with her for several years.

It is always a thrill to see the young of any species of wildlife.  Babies are shy but curious as they learn about their surroundings, and often they are unaware of potential dangers.  It is important to remember not to approach any wildlife, but especially mothers and their young, too closely.  If the mother runs one way and the baby the other, they may never reunite, and the baby is not yet equipped with the knowledge and skills to survive on his own.

Check out these pages for more information on Sitka black-tailed deer, Red foxes, and mountain goats.