Red Foxes enjoy spring in Algonquin Park
It was almost exactly a year earlier that Bob and I had occasion to observe a family of Red Foxes in Algonquin Provincial Park, and here we were, once again, in the company of the same vixen with a brand new litter of kits.
Despite the early June date, it was stifling hot, and pesky mosquitoes were plentiful, but with insect repellent protecting our ankles and bug nets over our heads, we waited patiently for the Red Fox family to make an appearance. With the den nearby, we knew it would only be a matter of time.
Another nature lover who had been on site since the wee hours of the morning said that the kits were likely in the den having an afternoon nap. They had played energetically for hours since the break of day, so we thought we might have a lengthy wait. To our surprise and pleasure, a short while later the Red Fox vixen came trotting along with 4 of her 6 kits in tow.
No one said a word; we all just looked on with adoring eyes. The vixen has paths worn through the woods, trails that duck under low balsam boughs, mount sandy knolls and bend their way around obstacles on the forest floor. Following one such track, the vixen disappeared into the underbrush leaving these two kits to ponder we onlookers.
Curiosity got the better of this young kit that warily gamboled down the sandy slope to see what we were all about. The wind whispered through the trees giving us momentary relief from both the heat and the mosquitoes, but each of us was holding our breath, afraid to move in case the magic of the moment would vanish.
A short distance away, Bob and I heard the vixen vocalize in a way reminiscent of a dog yawning. She was calling her kits to her side whereupon the vixen seemed to be taking stock of her family. Only 3 kits were immediately obvious at that point.
Two of the kits, now removed from the blazing sun and hot sand, found renewed enthusiasm for playtime.
They had great fun roughhousing, a serious business that kits begin when around three weeks old to establish hierarchy in the litter. These kits were about five weeks old, so already dominance among the siblings would have been determined.
Whichever kit is the highest in the pecking order gets all the food that it wants, whereas the runt, if food is scarce, may fail to thrive and possibly even die. As Bob and I observed these two kits, the crunchy lichen seemed to have a particular appeal to them. They nibbled and smelled it, rolled in and stretched out on its rough surface. Perhaps it alleviated the itchy mosquito bites on their bellies.
Play fighting also helps Red Fox kits develop their fighting skills. Here, it looks as if one kit is particularly astute and is planning its next move.
Conflicts occur in a litter of kits, and resolving those conflicts is also a skill learned through roughhousing.
Red Foxes are more closely related to cats than dogs, and here we see the fox kits touching and smelling noses, something that two cats do when they meet. It is one way they share the scents of their adventures.
These two Red Fox kits were getting worn out with all the rambunctious play and finally settled down for a minute or two. I love the posture on this one and am so endeared to it because of its oversized paws.
Mother fox at first stayed close by seeming to keep a watchful eye on her young, and I couldn’t help noticing that the third kit had vanished. I was curious as to where it had gone so went in search of it and its litter mate back in the vicinity of the den.
That is where I found this little kit reclining on a clump of dirt above me. Looking coy, in fact it is one of the four kits that originally came out to greet us. The two absent kits were said to be the shy one and the runt of the litter, but perhaps they remained with the dog fox or in the den requiring a bit more sleep.
Enough laying low for this little kit because it soon bounded down the hillock and made for a thin twig that was bobbing in the breeze.
Trying to grasp the moving target was great fun for the Red Fox kit, and with persistence, it succeeded in catching the thin piece of wood between its tiny teeth. Over and over again, it would catch and release the worried twig until finally the vixen called in her babies.
The vixen casually walked around the area showing no concern for our presence there or our observation of the kits’ playtime. In fact, she eventually went off leaving us to kit sit and disappeared into the distant edge of the forest. Probably on the hunt for a fresh kill, the vixen did not return for a good half hour. Perhaps our very presence reassured her that the kits would be safe from predators while we oversaw the kits’ playtime.
In any case, the vixen returned empty-handed and immediately set about grooming one of the kits.
Bob and I were on the fringe of the open area that the vixen had chosen for this task, and here she throws a backward glance in Bob’s direction.
With deliberate and careful nibbles, the vixen pulled dirt and debris from this kit’s fur while the baby relaxed in the sand.
Submitting to its mom’s ministrations, the Red Fox kit got a thorough going over. Any ticks that might have been on the baby would have been removed along with burs, twigs and other matter that was entangled in the soft pelage.
When the vixen withdrew to the region of her den, the Red Fox kits followed her in haste, and we did not disturb them as the babies suckled at her teats. It was time to let them have their privacy and feed in earnest. They were still so very young.
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