Thursday, January 14, 2016

Decoying for Ducks

I saw him from the corner of my eye. He was standing statue still, no more than 15 feet away, staring into a pile of snow-covered rocks.

He lunged forward, nose into the snow, and when he backed up, a chipmunk hung from the corner of his mouth. He ran down the trail, stopped and swallowed his meal.

That’s a real-life nature scene, I thought as I went back to what I was doing. When I lifted my head a couple of minutes later, there he was again, staring at me from a knoll not 20 feet away.

He was the most beautiful red fox I have seen in years. Young, probably born last spring, and absolutely prime. The fronts of his legs looked like he was wearing clean black stockings. His bushy tail was almost one-half his body length.  His face with its long snout, pointed ears and mischievous eyes was one only his mother could love.

Most of the foxes I have seen in recent years have been emaciated – thin and weak. A couple have showed patches of bare skin where mange has taken the fur.

This one was curious and not displaying much fear. I held my hand toward him and clicked my tongue and he took a couple of cautious steps toward me. The hand was empty and I had nothing to offer so he backed off.

I wasn’t worried about being close to him. He was wildly healthy looking so I had little concern about rabies.

You have to admire foxes. They are clever hunters who always hunt alone. Their lives, which usually last only 18 to 24 months, are a perpetual search for food. And, they have clever ways of getting what they need to eat, one of the most clever of which is decoying ducks.

Ducks are difficult for foxes to catch because they usually are on the water or in the air. So foxes will cavort on a shoreline, rolling about and acting crazy. Ducks are curious critters and when they see the fox antics they paddle close to shore for a better look. When they get close enough the sly fox snags one.

Early Indians observed this and began using fox skins to attract ducks. They tied ropes to the tail and nose of the skin. Each end was taken by a hunter who hid behind a bush. The Indians would pull the rope back and forth making the skin move like a fox acting silly. When the ducks approached, the Indians would throw a net over them.

Although they prefer to burrow underground, foxes will sometimes climb trees and settle in low branches to snooze or watch for prey. They also are especially good at finding their way in the dark because they have excellent night vision, and they have whiskers on their legs that help them feel their way.

They usually are quiet animals but they have a variety of calls ranging from yips to a high-pitched scream made during the mating season.        

Foxes are still hunted around the world as pests and for sport, although hopefully the days of killing a fox to put its tail on car radio aerial seem to be gone. Annual fox kills in Britain are said to be about 25,000 and a whopping 600,000 in Germany.

The British aristocracy still hasn’t been able to get past the cruel sport of running down foxes with hounds and horses. Britain banned hunting foxes with hounds in 2004 but the ban is widely ignored.

Members of the Royal family still have fox hunts, although they claim to use fox scent, not real foxes. A couple of years back people complained to police that a real fox was being chased by hounds and red jacketed horse riders during one of Prince’s Charles’ hunts.

Foxes, however, often are smarter than the hounds, horses and humans. Certainly they are more loyal parents. There was a report from England that a kit fox was caught in a trap for two weeks but survived because its mother brought it food every day.


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