Squirrels on notice!

There are not one, but two mammalian predators looking for the squirrels in my backyard. One of the red foxes stopped by the other day, furtively sneaking along the fence line between backyards, pausing under some evergreens for a look at the bird feeders, and then hiding next to a shed in my neighbor’s yard.

The squirrels were smart enough to avoid this red fox, an infrequent visitor to my backyard this winter.

But the next day, a coyote lingered in the backyard, hunting along the edge between the grass and the forest for unsuspecting squirrels.

This particular coyote had a foxy-looking face, and some reddish fur on its head and ears, so I was confused at first glance. But it was noticeably bigger than a fox.
The head doesn’t look quite right for a coyote, but the body fur is definitely not fox. This animal was also smaller and less husky than the coyote that visited several years ago.
Coyote in the backyard, December 15, 2013. Usually coyotes will displace red foxes from an area, either by intimidation or by attacking and killing them. So I’ll have to see which one sticks around for the rest of the winter.

Close encounter

Sometimes you look out your window at just the right time and are fortunate to witness some of the drama of wildlife encounters that are probably regular occurrences in the backyard.  And this was tonight’s drama.

Mrs. Turkey decided to bring her week-old chicks for a quick dessert in the wildflower garden at sunset.  A few days ago she had 10, tonight she only had 8 with her.

This must be a second nesting attempt for this hen. It seems very late to have such small poults, and I wonder if they can grow big enough in time to survive a winter here.

She finally led them off into the brush at the very back of the backyard, about 100 feet from the house.

And I thought that was all I would see of them, until she reappeared five minutes later, clucking loudly with chicks running behind her.  The little ones took off flying into nearby trees, while she stayed on the ground, still clucking loudly.  Something was after them…

One of the local red foxes that inhabits the wetland beyond the backyard had discovered the turkeys, made a brief stop to pose for me, and continued its stalk through the bushes toward the birds.

Stealth approach…

Not even trying to remain hidden…

Wondering where the little ones went?

Realizing they are out of reach in the trees…

The chicks are out of reach, but the hen isn’t, and the Fox made a move toward her.

At this point, I interrupted the action by opening the porch door to get a better view, and the fox gave up its chase and disappeared.  Could the hen have escaped an attack?  I know turkeys can fly quite well, so unless she was molting a lot of flight feathers, she should have been able to escape — I hope.

This time, last year: a foxy morning

The usual suspects have returned to the back yard this summer, but one of my favorites is still missing, the pretty little red foxes.  So, here’s a glimpse of their visit to the backyard last year.

June 30, 2017:  What a delight to see my favorite canids lounging in my Minnesota backyard this morning.

red fox-

In addition to brief, one minute naps, there was quite a lot of scratching and grooming going on.

red fox-

And when they stopped digging at their own fleas or whatever was itchy, they groomed each other.

red fox-

must be some good stuff inside the other fox’s ear…

I watched these two foxes for several minutes, but can’t figure out if they are a male-female pair, or two youngsters, or what.  Male foxes are usually noticeably bigger then females, and these two seem to be identical in size. They do seem a bit small and skinny, so maybe they are younger, but this year’s kits would not be this big yet, having been born in late March, and just out of their den in early May.  It’s a mystery.

red fox-

Shot through the not very clean porch window at 500 mm —

let sleeping foxes lie

Morning coffee in hand, I ventured out to a somewhat chilly “sunroom” porch this morning and found a red fox sleeping nearby.

red fox-sleeping in snow

Morning light hasn’t made it to the backyard yet, and the thermometer on the backdoor says -10 F.

So I sat, camera in hand, and waited for the fox to wake up — for an hour and a half.  It was a long nap, perhaps needed after a long night of hunting mice, or the like.  It got boring watching the fox nap, so I opened the window for a close-up, clearer telephoto shot.

red fox-sleeping in snow

Curled up, fur fluffed up, nose tucked under tail for protection — the fox is quite comfortable at this frigid temperature.  This seems to be the typical posture of canids (dogs) sleeping in the cold.

artic fox sleeping-curious expeditions.flickr

An arctic fox sleeping in a similar position (Curious Expeditions on Flickr photostream).  Note the nice pocket of insulating snow the animal has created around it.  Arctic Fox can tolerate temperature extremes of -70 F without shivering.

wolf sleeping-Jeffrey Lepore-Science Source

A gray wolf using the same heat conservative posture while sleeping in snow (photo by Jeffrey Lepore/Science Source)

red fox-

Finally awake, now that the temperature is all the way up to O F. It must be time to get on with the day’s activities.

red fox-eating snow

First on the agenda, eat some snow — replenish some body water lost in the nightly adventure.  I could see the fox biting chunks, chewing, and licking the edges of its sleeping area.

red fox-eating snow

Licking the moisture off its muzzle

red fox-

Stretching — this is a signal that the fox will either lie down for another nap, or take off in a few minutes.

red fox-

Yawn — wow, that is a huge gape between its jaws, big enough to bite something pretty chunky. Too bad the woodchucks are hibernating.

red fox-

Looking over at me, as I tap on the window, wishing the window were open instead of closed, so I could get a better photo.

red fox-stretching

A final stretch out, and the fox is off to make its rounds of the backyard.

red fox

gray squirrel for breakfast

I complain that I have too many gray squirrels in the backyard, clever ones that manage to defeat all the squirrel barriers on bird feeders.  It’s my own fault for supplying too much bird seed, but there is an unexpected benefit to attracting squirrels — attracting their much more photogenic predators.

red fox with gray squirrel kill-

I missed the actual fox-squirrel encounter, however, the fox was making sure the squirrel was dead by biting it in the neck several times.

red fox with gray squirrel kill-

checking for life from another angle…

red fox with gray squirrel kill-

bite it again, just to make sure…

red fox with gray squirrel kill-

So, eat it now, or save for later?

Save for later, was apparently the decision, as the fox picked the squirrel up in its jaws and trotted off behind bushes and the neighbor’s house to have some privacy.

Foxes and probably the Great Horned Owls in the backyard have been doing a fine job of keeping the local rabbit population in check.  In fact, I rarely see a rabbit munching on my flowers any more.  As is usually the case, when one population of prey decreases, there is increased pressure on other prey species, in this case, the gray squirrels that annually produce a new crop of naive youngsters that like to hang out near the bird feeders.  And therein lies the balance of nature…

Note: these are not the best photos of a photogenic fox; they were shot on a very gray day, early in the morning, through dirty windows, with a much too slow shutter speed — but the action was exciting!

a foxy morning

What a delight to see my favorite canids lounging in my Minnesota backyard this morning.

red fox-

In addition to brief, one minute naps, there was quite a lot of scratching and grooming going on.

red fox-

And when they stopped digging at their own fleas or whatever was itchy, they groomed each other.

red fox-

must be some good stuff inside the other fox’s ear…

I watched these two foxes for several minutes, but can’t figure out if they are a male-female pair, or two youngsters, or what.  Male foxes are usually noticeably bigger then females, and these two seem to be identical in size. They do seem a bit small and skinny, so maybe they are younger, but this year’s kits would not be this big yet, having been born in late March, and just out of their den in early May.  It’s a mystery.

red fox-

Shot through the not very clean porch window at 500 mm —

lazy summer days

What do you do on a hot, summer day when soft, grassy lawns and the sweet aroma of wildflower blooms beckon?  It calls for a short nap in the grass, I guess, even for wildlife, and the backyard was the perfect place yesterday.

whitetail fawns-

A pair of fawns wandered by, one of whom decided on a short rest while munching on fallen leaves.

whitetail fawns-

Still spotted, although they’re now half the size of their mom.  The left ear of the fawn standing has a torn notch — perhaps it had an encounter with a predator early in life.

whitetail doe-

Mom watched me warily from the woods, as I snuck up on her darlings.

red fox kit-

A little later a red fox kit wandered by, checking out the squirrels at the bird feeder.

red fox kit-

And then settled down for a little rest near the wildflower garden while still watching those squirrels.

red fox kit-

Resting in the shade on a hot summer day…that’s the life.

playful pups

Each morning and evening, the fox pups come out to play under the watchful eyes of their wary parents.

red fox pups-

There was a lot of scampering about in and around the bushes and twigs, making it hard to get much of a photograph of these little furry balls.

red fox pups-

Play behavior of the fox pups is like a rehearsal for future hunting tactics, as they attack the leaf litter and pounce on imaginary prey.

red fox pups-

Attacking each other is also a good game.

red fox pups-

Taking a break from all that play to rest up for the next bout.  Their fur coat is getting redder, and their legs and ears are a little blacker than when I first saw them last week.

red fox-

One small yip from this watchful parent and the pups disappeared immediately back into the burrow.  

Pups and parent were already out and active when I arrived, so I tried hiding behind a not very large tree trunk to take these shots from about 200 feet away.  I’m still hoping for some closer shots with less obstruction from little branches before the family leaves this den area.

foxy faces

I’ve been trying to photograph the fox family living in a friend’s backyard by sitting in my camouflage tent and spying on them.  The kits made their appearance last week and have been frolicking around the brush of “stump-henge” in the far backyard in the early morning and evening.

red fox-kits

Fox kits from a previous year — April 5, 2013. This bunch was a little older, and the parents were a lot less wary of my presence (hidden in my camo tent).

Mr. (or Mrs.) Fox keeps a keen look-out for any dangers to their rambunctious bunch, and consequently ushers them back into the burrow whenever I am in my tent.  I haven’t figured out how the adults know I’m there, as I peer out a small slit in the tent window (smell? sight?).  Watching the adults watch me, I see a variety of “expressions” in their gaze, as they change the position of their ears, their head, their body stance.

How would you label these fox face “expressions”?

red fox-

First day of observation – first shot after entering the tent.

red fox-

Moments later, after “thinking” about this new object that appeared in the yard.

red fox-

These three images above were taken over about a 5 minute time period, but there is an obvious change in attitude over that time.

red fox-

How about this one? It’s a windy, chilly day — the late afternoon sun feels pretty good.

red fox-

Watching me closely from “stump-henge”.

I’m hoping the adults learn to ignore my presence, and I can get some shots of their offspring soon.

Red Fox redux — or why I miss the foxes in my backyard

The Red Fox kits seem to be thriving well in the Minneapolis backyard.  The Minneapolis paper ran an article on foxes in urban backyards the same day I published their photos on this blog!  Some city residents appreciate seeing “wild” creatures come into their backyards — others abhor nature and shoot foxes, even within the city limits.  So sad.

The following set of photos was kindly forwarded by a friend who lives quite near the fox den where we took the first set of pictures, and it illustrates very well why I (and some others) enjoy having foxes patrol the backyard and keep the rodent/rabbit population under control.

red fox kit with rabbit

Got that rabbit!  One of the red fox kits makes a kill.  Photo by Debbie Reynolds

red fox kit with rabbit-

Shake it up, make sure it’s dead.  Photo by Debbie Reynolds

red fox kit with rabbit-

Enjoying a delicious meal!  Photo by Debbie Reynolds

As I look out my porch window on the backyard this evening, here is why I miss the foxes in my backyard.  We haven’t seen rabbits here for the last few years; either the Great Horned Owls or the foxes were taking care of them.  Now I see that the rabbits have quite enjoyed the herb garden, polishing off most of the cilantro and the dill and have now started in on the cardinal flower and other tender shoots in the wildflower garden.

rabbits in the garden-

They look like pretty easy targets to me, even with their big, widely spaced eyes trained on what’s around them.

eastern cottontail rabbit eating garden wildflowers-

Well, help yourself to a few of my flowers, then.

eastern cottontail rabbit-

Did you know that the placement of the eyes on a rabbit’s head enables them to see almost 360 degrees around their head, as well as above and below their head? They have about 30 degrees of binocular vision in front, 10 degrees of binocular vision behind their head!, and almost 180 degrees of lateral monocular vision from each eye. No wonder they are so hard to sneak up on.