Edward Marshall emailed a doozy this time: ‘‘A healthy-looking fox that stayed for most of a day in our backyard. We do have a bird feeder nearby, so I wonder if the animal was waiting for a meal.’’
The red fox came between the holidays to Marshall’s home in Wilmette.
Well, Marshall happened to capture photos of my favorite mammal. We’re all human, and being human means we err and play favorites in the wild world. Having favorites matters in how animals are managed and treated.
I guarantee that if bighead and silver carp weren’t so ugly and instead looked like brook trout or rainbow trout, our management of them would be vastly different and wouldn’t involve millions of our tax dollars being squandered.
But I digress.
‘‘Only second time in 34 years we’ve had a fox in our backyard,’’ Marshall emailed. ‘‘We’re four blocks from the North Shore Channel, where there is habitat, and the Canal Shores [Golf Course], where there’s open space and timber.’’
Back in my single days, when I played golf regularly, Canal Shores was known as Peter Jans. It was my favorite golf course because it was a mix of urban wild and golf course. And the price was right, too.
Marshall, a producer for CBS, touched on a reason foxes are my favorite: the rarity of sighting them. That’s true unless you happen to live near a known den or home area.
For years, red foxes hung out by the rowing club at Lincoln Park. When our daughter played softball in our town, a pair denned underneath storage units to the west of the field. I often found myself watching them instead of the game. One sometimes sprints through my mother-in-law’s yard in Manteno. Fellow master naturalists tell me they favor a culvert near the high school.
That’s the thing about foxes: They catch your eye.
In one of those strange swings in life, I bet people in recent years see bald eagles more frequently than they do red foxes.
Rooting around on the Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ website, I found out the red fox was featured on Illinois’ first furbearer stamp.
The IDNR suggests an epidemic of sarcoptic mange in the late 1960s and early 1970s reduced numbers. Then the rising population of coyotes, who compete for food and will kill foxes, kept numbers down.
Red foxes are most prevalent in northern Illinois.
While I tend to think Marshall might be right about the fox being drawn to his bird feeder (or associated rodents), I suspect it might be something equally fundamental. Fox mating peaks in January and sometimes begins in December.
One thing jumped out at me on the IDNR site: ‘‘Reports of red foxes in urban and suburban areas seem to be more common in recent years, probably because coyote numbers are low and rabbits and rodents are abundant in these areas.’’
As somebody who crosses back and forth between wild/rural areas and urban/suburban areas, I absolutely agree. I see far more red foxes in developed areas.
They streak wild color on urban and suburban landscapes.
Follow me on Twitter @BowmanOutside.
Editorial add: The IDNR has some wonderful and very readable breakdown on animals. Click here for the one on red foxes. Or, if you are like me, you go down an internet hole and end at the IDNR’s page for badgers. Click here for that one.