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Gary Shaw: Our neighbour on the land, the red fox

Walk on the Wild Side
Walk on the Wild Side - SaltWire Network

As Labradorians, most of us who spend any amount of time in the country at all, we find ourselves familiar with our ever-present neighbour, the red fox.

These animals are often an after thought to most of us. They are a common resident of Labrador, there are usually fairly good numbers of them, and because of their ability to adjust to most conditions both from an environmental and food standpoint, they can be found most anywhere that we find ourselves.

A red fox
A red fox

In Labrador, they are the little guys living in a big guy world. Wolves and bears share the same space and in many cases, similar food sources, yet these little creatures carry on living their lives not only very successfully, but also with little fear or concern about their bigger neighbours. They are smart, they are quick on their feet, are very patient when it is required, and are really good hunters.

They are a small almost dog like mammal with a sharp pointed face and ears. They are built on an agile and light body, a coat of shiny fur and a large bushy tail. As is often the case in other species, the male foxes are slightly larger than the females. Size varies somewhat according to geography, with foxes that are further north tending to be bigger.

Although red fox is the accepted name of the species, they can come in different colors. These color phases can often occur within the same litter of pups. Although the most common color is red, they are often found locally in Labrador with really dark red colors, silver color, black color, some with dominant black feet, white socks, and big white tips on their tails.

Red foxes have historically been described as bold, cunning and deceitful. The reality is that they are shy, secretive and have a nervous disposition.

Red foxes have extremely good eyesight, a very keen sense of smell, and acute hearing capabilities, all tools that serve them well when hunting. The slightest movement of their prey is all they need to locate their lunch. They can easily smell the nests of young rabbits or eggs of birds nesting in the long grass. They can easily locate movement underground and dig their way to lunch or hear and smell under the snow and pounce and land with exceptional accuracy on an unsuspecting mouse or lemming.

Although there is no small mammal that is off limits, they will just as quickly feed on eggs and chicks and also enjoy a meal of berries when the season is right.

Males and females usually, but not always have just one mate. They will usually breed in Labrador from mid to the end of March. They will seek out a suitable den by digging one or burrow under an old stump, and will also find a spot amongst some rocks where a suitable hole can be customized for their family.

The fox pups are born throughout May depending on breeding dates. Their litter size will often vary but the average is usually around five pups. The pups are born blind and will have their eyes open during their second week. The adult fox is patient and is often a playful parent. The male is usually not allowed in the den before the pup’s eyes are open although he hunts for the family. After the pup’s eyes are open and they begin to crawl, the male will relieve the female while she gets out for a hunt.

After a month the pups are weaned from mother’s milk to regular food. Small game is brought to them to get them used to the smell of prey and provide food. They are usually able to feed themselves at about three months of age. The young foxes who survive the many perils of their first winter will breed in the spring and start a whole new generation.

As we travel through the country and see these foxes from time to time, it’s hard not to see what beautiful animals they are. We can’t help but respect their ability to thrive, in spite of their size, and the harsh conditions that they endure, and still survive as a species in good numbers.

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