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January 10, 2014

Red or gray, foxes are one of nature's wonders

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The Daily Star

---- — The other day I headed for Stamford and saw three crows feeding on something in the road.

Being creatures of opportunity they wasted no time getting some fresh meat when easily presented for their taking on a cold winter morning.

Well, easily presented is a bit of a misnomer. Traffic on Route 23 during the morning commute made that leisurely breakfast a little more difficult. As I passed I thought I could have moved the dead gray fox out of the direct line of traffic for them, but I wasn’t going to dodge all those cars. They were on their own.

As I thought about it I realized how few foxes we see, but they are really quite plentiful. We see more red foxes than grays because of their preferred habitat. The gray fox likes to live and hunt in the forests, thickets and swamps. Red foxes are far bolder. They will take up residence in your backyard and raise their pups in under a corner of your garage or old chicken house.

A lady told me that she has a red fox that comes on her porch almost every evening and eats the food she puts out for a couple of stray cats.

While deer hunting this fall I watched a gray fox come down an old woods road on my hill. Usually they are nocturnal, but this little fellow trotted along with his tail behind him as if he was on a mission. I sat quietly about 30 yards away and watched. He stopped and listened as a chipmunk scampered through the leaves. The little tan rodent was near a huge old pine log not far from the leaf-covered road. Carefully, the fox approached. He’d take a couple of steps and then listen. The fox moved closer, crouching down like a cat before pouncing right as he neared the base of the log. He dug for a second but soon realized his easy meal was gone. Before moving on he made an entire circle around that log, looking, smelling and digging. 

The fox would have fared far better if he had been hunting for that chipmunk up in the trees. In the trees? Sure, gray foxes are rather catlike and will climb trees and even jump from limb to limb while searching for food.

Red foxes are different. They prefer more open areas, living in farm land and even urban areas. Red foxes are very adaptable and cunning. The phrase “sly as a fox” fits them perfectly.

Over the years I’ve watched quite a few red foxes. A vixen raised four pups in an old woodchuck hole along the hedge row above our house one summer. It was fun watching those little guys come out and play. They would run and chase, tackle one another and wait for mom to return with lunch.

I decided one day to see how close I could get to them before they finally disappeared into the hole. Those pups had seen me many times and I got within 20 yards before the last pup scampered into hiding, but I hadn’t turned around and got another 10 yards away before I saw his little head peeking out of the den once more.

The gray and red fox differ in many ways. The gray fox’s snout is shorter.

The red fox’s tail is far bushier and is even used to keep it warm in the winter. The red fox will cover itself up with its tail like a blanket. A red fox’s pelt is lush and soft, but the gray’s is coarse and stiff.

Two foxes – so much alike but so very different. They live in close proximity yet seldom mingle and never mix. Just another example of Mother Nature’s wonders.

Isn’t it great?

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at robrockway@hotmail.com.