Why are red foxes so happy among us?

Why are red foxes so happy among us?

Why are red foxes so happy among us?

5.5 minute read. 

Red foxes are as familiar to any Yukoner as seeing their friend or colleague walking down the street. They are a welcome resident of Whitehorse, and most urban environments in Canada. Though many species numbers have declined since Europeans arrived to the shores of what is now North America, the red fox is the exception to the rule. Red fox populations have only increased since human settlements have grown and expanded. In fact, the red fox is one of the most widely distributed territorial mammals in the world.1even in the Arctic

So why are red fox numbers growing alongside human populations? One reason that the arrival of Europeans coincided with a growth in the red fox population in Canada is that Europeans brought foxes with them. There was already a species of native red fox living here at that time, so both native and non-native red foxes live in North America. Native red foxes are what we typically see in the north; they are the Canadian Boreal Forest species that colonised here shortly after the last glacial period, around 11,000 years ago. Non-native red foxes are found further south, where they were released by European settlers in the mid 1700s, for hunting purposes. However, introduced red foxes are not the only reason fox numbers have increased since colonisation. Though it is commonly thought that people are generally bad for wildlife, there are certain species that benefit greatly from people, and red foxes are one of them!

Despite red foxes having plenty of wildland in which to settle and bear their young, they’ve often chosen human settlements to set up shop. Red foxes are part of the group called ‘synanthropic species.’ These species live near humans and directly benefit from human-altered landscapes. Animals such as mice, rats, pigeons, racoons, skunks, and coyotes are synanthropic species. Red foxes, like these other animals, benefits from our landscape alterations, including gardens, bird feeders, garbage dumps, sheds, porches, and barns, all of which provide either suitable food or shelter, and often both. These species have learned how to exploit human settlements to their advantage, and they thrive in suburbs and cities that are in or near forests or fields. An ‘edge species’ lives at the border of two different habitat types, or ecotones, such as where forest meets grassland. A city like Whitehorse could be an ecotone in and of itself, since its boundaries are rich forest area. But in other cities such as large metropolises, humans have created habitats that very closely mimic an edge species’ natural environment. Gardens and yards that back onto bushy or forested area are perfect for red foxes and other edge species. Because rats, mice, and voles enjoy human suburban environments, red foxes have an abundant food source when living near people, not to mention the garbage that people inevitably leave lying around or in unsecured garbage cans.
Moreover, red foxes require shelter for denning, and the underside of sheds and decks, or your rotting wood pile all offer what a fox needs to rear its young. And because human settlements are typically near a water source, foxes will have access to that as well. Many gardeners also choose to provide bird baths or other water sources on their property, and this makes great habitat for all edge species, including foxes. A bushy yard near a field or forest is a great environment for a red fox, since they benefit from both the human environment and the natural landscape. And suburban environments offer fields where they can hunt, ditches with food and water, and woody parks which offer cover, safety, food, and denning opportunities. A great environment means large litter sizes, and high survival rates among young. The Wilderness City is the perfect environment for a red fox, and the perfect place for fox populations to thrive.

So human environments are great for red foxes, but how are red foxes great for people? As we’ve seen, our environments attract a variety of animals that people find a nuisance. Mice, rats, voles, and pigeons are all things that people don’t enjoy having in or around their house. Fallen fruit such as crab apples and berries attract mice into our yards, and without foxes, these animals can cause problems for people. Luckily, these animals are all great food sources for foxes. And people generally find foxes cute and enjoyable to observe. They aren’t threatening, even to children, and they generally won’t go after a full grown healthy cat. Foxes generally don’t cause problems for people who don’t have chickens or rabbits that they keep outside, and even then, modern fencing is good enough to often keep these animals safe. Foxes can carry rabies, which can cause problems for people, but in the Yukon, rabies is thankfully not a common disease. People have traditionally enjoyed keeping cats to help curb the rodent population, but cats also kill songbirds, and are one of the leading causes of songbird decline in North America. Foxes generally don’t kill songbirds, and subsist mostly on rodents and whatever they can scavenge. In other words, they eat what we don’t like.

Red foxes are the perfect species for urban populations, and because of this mutually beneficial relationship, fox populations will continue to grow and thrive alongside people. Come see our two resident red foxes next time you’re at the Wildlife Preserve!
This interpretetive panel is placed next to our fully fundraised Red Fox exhibit. It shares the story of red fox success across the Northern Hemisphere, from the Arctic to urban enviroments.

Photo credit: Danette Moule

Danette Moulé

Danette Moulé

Wildlife Interpreter

Danette is new to working at the Wildlife Preserve, but not new to appreciating it! Danette currently lives between the Yukon in summers, and BC / Alberta in the winters. She holds a Master's of Natural Resource Management, and has always been a big appreciator of wildlife and our natural world. Danette was raised in the mountains of western Canada, and is enjoying getting to know the north.

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Red Fox in 360 Video

Red Fox in 360 Video

Red Fox in 360 Video

4.5 min video – watch in either English or French –

Wild and curious Red Foxes are a common sight in the Yukon. The natural adaptability and resourcefulness of this species makes them well-suited to coping with human presence, but sometimes they need us to remember that they are wild animals. To learn more, watch this curriculum based video for schoolkids of all ages and then check out our website!

Red Foxes are very curious and highly adaptable members of the Canid Family.  People often love to see foxes and enjoy being close to wildlife, but the temptation to feed them can cause problems.  Unlike the Red Fox in this photo who has been raised in human care, wild foxes can and should hunt their own food.  To make sure that wild foxes don’t come too close, we can keep things that attract them out of their reach. Keeping garbage, pet food, and anything that they might eat or steal kept safely out of the way is essential.

Les Renards roux sauvages et curieux sont communs à voir au Yukon. L’adaptabilité naturelle et l’ingéniosité de cette espèce les rendent bien adaptés à la présence humaine, mais il faut se rappeler qu’ils sont des animaux sauvages. Pour en apprendre plus sur les renards roux, regardez cette vidéo pour les étudiants – de toutes âges, et visitez notre site web!

Education Team

Education Team

This 360 video is brought to you by the hard work and creativity of the Education team at Yukon Wildlife Preserve.  French translation for 2020 has been provided by Anna Tölgyesi.

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Wild Spring Adventure!

Wild Spring Adventure!

Wild Spring Adventure!

6 minute read (and/or) watch the video!

Spring is the sign of new life! It’s the circle of life intertwined and flourishing from increased sunlight.

It’s a time of birds migrating. Some, like swans, stop only a short time on their way to nesting grounds further north; some stay for the season, like the chickadee and bluebird – they build nests, attract mates and raise their families.

There’s a saying – “Spring is in the air” – that implies a renewal of spirit and perhaps a bit of friskiness in certain species, like Red Foxes, that may lead to becoming parents to this year’s young (or perhaps they already ARE parents!). Of course, some species breed in the autumn, so that as spring progresses, we will start to see babies being born – at Yukon Wildlife Preserve we are hopeful that we will see Bison, then Caribou calves in the coming weeks and months. We expect to see wild fox kits and ducklings as well.

At the Preserve, Arctic Ground Squirrels started popping their heads above ground April 7 this year, with the males the first to break their winter hibernation. Juveniles and females are soon to follow their lead. We see, sitting on the cliffs and soaring above fields, birds of prey like bald eagles, coming in to hunt this prolific prey species. Spring is a notable return of the constant cry of alarm calls of ground squirrels, as their many predators hunt them from land or sky – displaying the full Circle of Life.

New growth has begun with grasses and early flowers like crocuses, to name only two plant species. This is important nutrition to many animals after a long cold winter, and grazers like Thinhorn Mountain Sheep can be found on south facing slopes, enjoying the tender new shoots, and the ease of eating, now that the deep snow has melted.

Crocuses are one of the first signs of spring – and important nutrition to many animals after a long cold winter.  Here we see a very early crocus found by the authors on their spring adventure hike at Yukon Wildlife Preserve.   Photo by Lindsay Caskenette

Water, water, water everywhere! Swans have returned with a splash – their honking fills the air with the best kind of noise as they stop over to feed while on their long migration to their northern nesting grounds . There is a year round marsh in the moose habitat at the Preserve, but the seasonal one next door in the mule deer habitat seems to be preferred by the swans – to the seeming curiosity of one of the female mule deer.  Everyone seems to love jumping and running through puddles, no matter how big or small the puddle…..or animal…..moose, humans and muskox! After a winter of conserving energy while food is scarce and energy is focused to survival, jumping in a puddle can lead to manic runs around the yard (or habitat). It seems spring can be about fun and burning off extra energy!

Swans have a long migration in the spring – open water at Yukon Wildlife Preserve is a frequent stop over for food and rest by migratory birds.  Some, like bluebirds, stay for the season, some, like the swan, typically move on to nesting grounds further north.  Photo Lindsay Caskenette

When you need a meal, sometimes you have to “spring” into action. Lynx are natural jumpers and we took the opportunity to provide enrichment to our resident lynx females by placing their food in trees. In the wild, lynx prefer snowshoe hare and will use powerful leaps to catch their meal within only a few “springs”….we mean jumps…..

Limited smells in winter mean that spring unearths a plethora of new scents on the air. Red Fox have an excellent sense of smell, making it easy for them to follow their nose to food sources. When they’ve eaten their fill, they will cache extra food as snacks for later. They keep an eye and ear out to avoid anyone following them to their cache site – other foxes and many birds in the Corvidae Family – grey jays, magpies, and ravens are known to steal their snacks.

Whether you’re human or animal, winter coats are shedding – and that wool, hair and fur can be found on the environment – rocks, trees, and fences (and sometimes finds its way into lining the nests of birds and small mammals like ground squirrels…..)  Shedding coats leads to a period of time not known for its fashion sense….and much shagginess in animals like bison.

Winter is over and the cycle of the year continues. Spring arrives, bringing increased sunlight and changes in everyone’s behaviour and appearance – humans and animals alike. We shed layers, feel the sun on our faces, enjoy the smells and the sounds of life renewing around us. We experience a rejuvenation of our spirits. Be well and enjoy spring, wherever you are.

Lindsay Caskenette & Julie Kerr

Lindsay Caskenette & Julie Kerr

Visitor Services Manager and Visitor Services Coordinator

Lindsay and Julie love to share the Preserve the same way they explore life – full on and full of adventure!  They have a collective love of:  Animals....Lindsay dogs, Julie foxes; Adventure.... Lindsay dog mushing, Julie extreme camping;  both take on animal personas during story telling.  Together they support the Preserve with a strong Visitor Services presence and often, they even get work done (this happens most often when the other one is out of the office).   

867-456-7400
 info@yukonwildlife.ca

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