William Hamilton: Fox watc, a lesson for us all
Grand County, CO Colorado
Once again, we are empty-nesters. The fox family that used the cave underneath the huge rock directly behind our house departed. Either that, or the ground squirrel we now see examining the fox den must have a death wish.
Several weeks ago, Wonder Wife saw this sweet, little fox face peering out from the darkness of the cave. Increasing our surveillance, we began to see four kits in all. Three of them were very robust, one of them sickly. By the dawn’s early light, we sometimes saw the male bringing food to the den. When she was well enough, the vixen shared in the food-gathering chores, mostly in the evenings.
One morning, the vixen brought all four kits down from the cave and out onto our gravel driveway. While the father fox supervised the healthier kits at play – learning how to leap and pounce on each other – the vixen lay down to encourage the sickly kit to nurse. Unfortunately, that was the last time we saw the sickly kit.
All too soon, the remaining kits were teenagers exhibiting the unfocused, wandering ways of teenagers. Those drew quick corrections from the vixen and/or the father fox. One of the kits who was obviously the alpha male or the alpha female spent much more time lying just outside the entrance to the den than did the other kits. As a result, when one of the parents returned to the den carrying something to eat, the alpha kit was first in line for chow. Charles Darwin at work.
As the kits grew stronger, we could tell the alpha kit was trying to decide if it was time to face the world on its own terms. Was it time to break the loving bonds of family and venture out into the unknown world? We just happened to be watching when the alpha kit left the den for good and trotted determinedly out our driveway. We were both proud and sad. We hated to see that brave alpha kit go.
Initially, all that giving birth, feeding, and kit-rearing caused the vixen, like new mothers everywhere, to look pretty bedraggled. But the last time we saw her, her coat looked much better and the spring was back in her step. Yesterday, the father fox was sitting on a small rock at the far end of our driveway. He seemed lost in thought as if he were thinking about how they grow up all too quickly and then they are gone. Well, almost gone.
We take comfort in the fact that our house seems to be in the center of their approximate two-mile-radius range. We also know that the adolescents, even though now out on their own, often linger within the range to help with the raising of the next litter.
The Red Fox (Vulpes fulva) will be mating again next year sometime between January and March. If we are lucky, come spring, the vixen will return to the cave underneath the huge rock behind our house and the fox family will, once again, provide us with several weeks of viewing enjoyment.
Granted, chicken farmers, voles, mice, and ground squirrels do not share our enthusiasm for the Red Fox; however, the Vulpes fulva’s careful parenting, supervised play, and their loving and cooperative family life should be a role model for us all.
Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.
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