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Family Time For Foxes



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Kim Harrison caught a glimpse of the new season unfolding this week.

Out from under her barn on Taunton Hill Road Tuesday morning emerged a “cool little spring story,” she said. A mother fox and her litter came out from beneath the barn and into Tuesday morning’s sunshine.

Ms Harrison said, “I only saw the mom on [Monday, March 31] and noticed she went toward the barn.” Then on Tuesday morning “one cub came out and then there were five or six; it was amazing.” That morning Ms Harrison saw the mother fox “watching [the kits] and nursing.” She also described the mother as “brazen,” as she soon “scuttled them under the barn.”

But while they were out, Ms Harrison was able to take photos of her backyard guests. “Look who is enjoying the spring,” she said.

“They scamper and look like bunny rabbits from the back,” Ms Harrison said. They reminded her too of puppies. Uncertain of how old they might be, she said, “They are pretty small and still nursing.”

She described the kits as “brownish with a golden honey color.” Unlike other foxes that have a mangy appearance, she said the mother looks healthy. Noting her reddish coat, she said, “she looks good,” which is lucky considering the mother fox has got “all those little ones to take care of.”

The mother “was away from the barn … she was on the lawn sunning herself while the pups were playing.” And their play had been busy: “There are some scratches on the barn, and part of the rain gutter was broken. I think they were playing with that.”

As Ms Harrison opened her front door Tuesday, the mother fox didn’t move, “So I zoomed in.”

In a brief series of photos the kits are gathered around their mother nursing beside the barn. In another shot where the mother is curled on the lawn, one of her kits is nuzzling her snout. In a third photo, the mother appears to be enjoying Tuesday’s warm sunlight.

Although she has seen foxes in her yard in the past, this is the first time she has seen a family. Apparently, underneath the barn is cozy, she said.

The Red Fox

Wildlife in Crisis Assistant Director Peter Reid said it’s right time of year for a young fox family. Based in Weston, the non-profit organization was founded in 1989 to care for injured and orphaned wildlife.

“They are not harmful, they are not dangerous,” he said.  “Just give them space.” He recommends keeping young children and pets at a distance from the fox den. “We do not encourage people to force them away.” To see them during the daytime is “perfectly typical,” he said.

Referring to their behavior, he described a scene similar to what Ms Harrison saw in her yard. “They are going to play like puppies would,” he said. “They are very playful and have no fear of man, but give them room.” He estimates they could have been born in late February, and “will start to eat solid food quickly.”

During this time period, the mother will be active finding food for the kits. “There are a lot of calorie demands,” said Mr Reid. “Mothers are frantic searching for food. If there is a father, he might contribute.”

By July or August, the young males will “take off on their own and the family will disperse by late summer.” Be patient, he said. “If people can be tolerant of their presence, they will disperse.”

The foxes “are not dangerous in any way,” and the largest prey they hunt are squirrels, but mostly they hunt small rodents, earth worms, or insects.

The mother’s choice of building a den underneath the barn is not unusual. “We are seeing a lot of dens in close proximity to humans …maybe fear of coyotes. It’s a recent phenomenon — the denning close to people — maybe people are a lesser threat than natural predators.” Mr Reid said.

Unlike the gray fox, the red fox is non-native and came from Great Britain for fox hunting. The gray fox, which is native, “is starting to make a comeback, we are seeing them in greater numbers,” Mr Reid said.

According to the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection: The red fox is widespread and abundant in Connecticut. The population that exists today is made up of hybrids, a result of interbreeding between native red foxes and the European red fox, which was introduced into the eastern coastal areas of the United States in the mid-18th century. The native red fox was a boreal species that historically occurred in the northern regions of North America and at higher elevations in western areas. Foxes are members of the dog family, Canidae, just like domestic dogs and coyotes.

The red fox is best identified by its reddish coat, black legs and ears, and long, white-tipped, bushy tail. It has an elongated muzzle, pointed ears, and a white underside. Other color phases are uncommon but include silver, black, and a cross, always with a white-tipped tail and dark feet. The tail is proportionally longer than the tail of a coyote and, when the fox is running, it is held horizontally behind the animal. Red foxes weigh between 7 and 15 pounds, averaging 10 to 11 pounds, and measure between 39 and 43 inches long, including the tail. Males are slightly heavier and generally larger than females.

For more information, contact the Wildlife in Crisis at 203-544-9913 or write to wildlifeincrisis@snet.net

One baby kit nuzzles its mother. 
A mother fox nurses her kits on a lawn near the barn where she made a den at a Taunton Hill Road residence.
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