Autumn Wildlife Update! Local fox activity increases this month as Spring’s kits enter adolescence, aka “the October Crazies.” Look out for dramatic behavior changes in our furry neighborhood friends.
Neighbors have been reporting an uptick in fox sightings, as well as a change in nighttime vocalizations. Instead of the screaming/calling they were doing during mating season, now folks have been hearing… barking. Howling. Fighting, even. What is going on?
According to thepetfox.net, a fox’s first Fall is an awkward time of transition often referred to as “The October Crazies.” The playful, affectionate fellow they’ve been caring for all Summer suddenly turns nippy, fearful, destructive, and even prone to temper tantrums. Google abounds with encouragement for pet fox owners, who are assured this developmental stage is normal and temporary.
Young pet foxes freak out this time of year just like in the wild, as almost-grown kits face major challenges just surviving to adulthood. For starters, come summer’s end, fox parents begin driving their offspring away from the den to fend for themselves over winter. Harsh! But that’s Nature.
Even harsher: other foxes in the area see these new guys as competition, so they’ll attack them on sight — or try to ward them off their territory — with “gekkering,” a guttural chattering, like “Ack ack ack ackawoooo ack ack ack…” (add yelps, howls, hisses, etc as needed).
To top it all off, these homeless young foxes are coursing with hormones, dealing with all kinds of stressful changes in their internal chemistry as they struggle to carve out their place in the world. They tend to be defiant, impulsive, and mouthy.
Teenagers! Awwww… let’s cut them some slack, and wish them a cozy, safe winter.
(ORIGINAL POST June 20, 2016)
As Laurel Hill Cemetery’s frisky foxes blow up local social media, another foxy family on Netherfield Road enchants (and possibly pranks) neighbors.
East Falls may have a Philadelphia zip code, but our neighborhood’s as green as it is urban. The Wissahickon gorge is 1,800 acres of forest, meadow, creek — and we sit right on the edge of it (with a river, yet, on another side!).
For many of us, encounters with wildlife are part of the fun of living here. Lately, certain russet-furred locals have been especially active and, dare we say, adorable. Let’s learn more about our neighbor, Vulpes vulpes. (Thanks to images from EFL readers and Laurel Hill patrons).
The typical red fox is a 10 – 12 lb omnivore, a little over a foot tall and about three feet long — including 14-16 inches of bushy, luxurious tail. From Fall thru Winter, foxes are solitary sorts, hunting alone and hanging out in their foxholes-made-for-one.
Around January/February in this area, the female fox — known as a “vixen” (!) — prepares her nursery den, frequently enlarging an old ground-hog burrow. Once she’s ready to, ahem, entertain suitors, she throws out a strong, musky “scent invitation” and waits for the “dog foxes” (males) to come calling.
The vixen holds court while the guys scrap over her until the one she likes is left. She and her new friend will hang out & play for awhile before settling down to make a family. Foxes mate for 15 to 20 minutes, often with a great deal of noise.
Foxes are loud creatures in other aspects of life, as well — in fact, their primary means of communication is vocal, with a language including (but not limited to) a wide range of yaps, barks, mews, whines, growls, churrs, yurrs, gurrs, squalls, and screams. Famed naturalist E. T. Seton described the fox scream as “probably the most sinister, unearthly, wild-animal note that can be heard in North America.”
But yet, they seem to have an appreciation for sweeter sounds, themselves — check out this incredible video from earlier this Summer (thanks, Mark Seidman), when a cemetery concert featuring voiolinist Monique Canniere and The Divine Hand Ensemble charmed a young fox out of its den. Audience members remained relaxed & calm while the fox checked out the show, then hurried off.
Fox babies — called “kits” — are born in March/April; a typical litter is five kits, each about the size & weight of a lump of charcoal. They remain helpless in the den for four or five weeks, then they begin exploring the world around them. By the second month, they’re fully weaned but parents & offspring stay together as a family until late Fall when the young ones strike out for dens of their own to winter in.
The dog fox usually takes off when the kits are grown, too. Next season, he may return to the same vixen for another round of parenting — or he may not. Although foxes are monogamous, they do not (necessarily) mate for life.
Foxes are members of the “dog” family (Canine), but they actually hunt more like cats, stalking then pouncing on their prey. Foxes are opportunistic feeders, enjoying a diet of bugs, mice, rabbits, chickens, garbage, and pilfered produce from gardens & fruit trees. They’re also fond of carrion — aka, pre-killed stuff dropped by predators or found on the side of the road.
Speaking of… a recent NextDoor thread had wildlife watchers giggling when a neighbor posted to complain about a rotting raccoon carcass appearing & re-appearing in front of her house:
It was on the road all day Saturday and still there before we went to bed, but again, it had been moved further along the road, so it no longer was in front of our house. This morning, we awoke to find that the animal remains were deposited on our lawn much closer to our house than before. This is obviously a willful act. I do not know why somebody is doing this, or what they have against us…
Humans? More like foxes, Tony Pipitone chimed in, “I believe they live close to the access alley off Coulter Street… Highly likely that the young foxes have been playing with it, or using it for food.”
Tony lives on Netherfield, where three groups of nearby neighbors have been quietly watching foxes all year:
As far as the neighbors on Netherfield can determine, we have a family of foxes (Father, Mother, 3-4 pups) that have been spending a lot of time here! They are beautiful animals. We believe that they may have a den under the shed of one of our neighbors, but cannot be certain as they are always coming and going.
We see them quite frequently at dusk, dawn and at night when we are walking our dogs. I see them now once or twice a week. I see them more in the winter because it is dark sooner and later. They scream like babies at night. This weekend they were screaming 2-3:00 a.m. in the morning. They appear to not be aggressive to humans, but rather inquisitive and tend to keep their distance. It’s great to have such interesting wildlife in the neighborhood!
Foxes can easily adapt to urban environments, too — lately, they’ve been making themselves at home in Germantown, even hanging out with resident stray cat populations. No matter how friendly they seem, FOXES ARE WILD ANIMALS and should be left alone. Even if they look really really cute and you weren’t going to eat that pizza crust anyway.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE A FOX:
According to the SPCA, foxes are not dangerous to pets or humans (except when they are rabid which is “very rare”). Foxes have a natural tendency towards fleeing rather than fighting. A fox cutting through your yard is probably just passing between hunting areas & requires no action.
If you’re worried a fox might take up house on your property, they can often be scared off with sprinklers, wind chimes, shiny balloons, old sweat socks, and defensive mulching.
Of course: DO NOT FEED FOXES! Acclimating to humans never goes well for wild animals, who are easy targets for hunters, mean kids, exotic pet hoarders, taxidermists, traffic… Foxes are also susceptible to many dog diseases, like distemper and parvovirus. And feeding wild animals can make them bold & nasty.
So far, Netherfield Road’s foxes remain appropriately aloof — but some feel the family at Laurel Hill might be getting a little too comfy with humans. EFL Health Contributor Ron Merriel is fascinated but also concerned,
“I have been there several mornings. Lately it seems that the mother brings most of her litter out hunting with her, but leaves one little guy behind. They are very cute, especially the kits. The kits come right up to you. They have a den under the Walker plot catty-corner to the mausoleum that had its doors stolen. One of the care takers there said that they have become popular with the groups that meet at the cemetery. And unfortunately, he thinks that people are feeding them.”
Say it isn’t so!
A fox’s first summer is almost all sleep and play as he builds strong bones & muscles, instincts & reflexes. Here’s hoping the kits of East Falls enjoy their next few months of social — but not too social! — fun. Next time you’re at Laurel Hill, keep your eyes peeled for major cuteness in the tombstones. Now till the end of Fall…
FUN FACT: Laurel Hill’s official mascot, River the Fox (named by voters on Laurel Hill’s Facebook page) is available online and at their gatehouse gift shop — just ten bucks, proceeds support our local landmark.