Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

Foxes and coyotes


Up here on our ridge, it's been a long time since we've seen foxes. There was a vixen with her pups that took up residence in a nearby stone pile about five years ago. We never went too close, not wanting to spook them away. But they've since disappeared, maybe because of coyotes.

Now, I don't want to give the coyotes a harder time than they deserve, but biologists say that foxes don't mix well with their bigger cousins. When the coyotes move in, the foxes usually beat a hasty retreat. If they don't, the result is usually fatal for the fox.

Foxes and coyotes compete for much of the same prey, especially rabbits, voles, and field mice. But for a coyote, lunch could just as easily be a fox as a rabbit. Apparently, foxes try to avoid direct confrontation by moving to the edges of coyote's territory.

If you've got both coyotes and foxes around, the naturalists say that you'll tend to find the red fox near the rivers and lakes that often mark the boundaries between coyotes' territories. Or look close to human habitation. Foxes move in near farmsteads and isolated homes, not so much for easy prey in the farmyard but because coyotes are wary of people.

So I was happy to hear from a neighbor that he'd spotted a big red fox below his house. And sure enough, I saw one - maybe the same animal - just yesterday. I was driving on the highway between Hatley and Massawippi and a beautiful big fox, with a buff body and a truly magnificent gray tail was trotting across a field. I think it was a male or "dog fox."

He spotted my car and did an about face, setting off at a dead run for the line of trees at the edge of the hayfield. Adversity drives foxes close to humans, but we're often more dangerous to them than the coyotes.

Like most predators, we don't take kindly to other killers. Foxes have a reputation for raiding the hen house and we despise wild things that won't respect our property. Our historic war against foxes - complete with bounties and other aids to extermination - was probably ill-advised.

Even the staunchest allies of foxes admit that they will in fact invade poultry yards when it's safe and easy to do so. According to Canadian government experts, however, "On farmlands, foxes more than compensate for the odd chicken by eating vast numbers of crop-destroying small mammals and insects, and they are now usually appreciated by farmers."

They're certainly appreciated by me. I miss the little vixen that lived in our stone pile and I'd love to see again the big dog fox that was trotting delicately across the neighbor's field. I hope that the balance we seem to have struck up here on our ridge between coyotes and foxes will hold, at least for a little while.

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