Red Fox: A smart dog | News, Sports, Jobs


PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG – A red fox is a common wild canine creature found across much of mainland North America. Today’s image was a lucky circumstance for this photographer as he drove down the rural roads of Butler County. As I crossed a small hill, in the field next to me was a red fox. It ran parallel to the gravel road and when it stopped I tried to take pictures with a long lens and a camera. It was easier said than done, but I gave it a try and got some acceptable, but not outstanding, footage of a red fox. Its rusty red fur gives an apt name to this 10 to 14 pound animal.

Winter wildlife sightings may be limited. However, they surely do not disappoint the observer when an opportunity arises. On the list of possibilities during the winter are deer, coyotes, eagles, hawks, owls, pheasants, gray partridge, wild turkeys, squirrels and rabbits.

What we won’t see are mice and voles in their snow tunnels at ground level in their tiny “jungle” of grasses and herbaceous native prairie plants. Later, in early spring after the snow melts, these tunnels and tracks will become evident. These pathways were places where the creatures looked for seeds to eat.

Deeper underground, inside the burrows are real hibernators, ground squirrels and, of course, the famous groundhog (groundhog), which, according to legend, may or may not see its shadow on February 2, thus predicting six more weeks of winter. A check of any calendar will tell us that in a month and a half, March 20, the first day of spring will arrive.

The astronomical name is better – vernal equinox – meaning equal hours of day and night. Our earth is just doing its job orbiting the sun, and we will be happy to see the sun again, instead of thick layers of overcast clouds.

A red fox is a generalist, meaning it is able to use a variety of habitats and food sources to support itself and the population. They are found at forest edges, in grasslands, in agricultural fields and along fence lines. Urban areas also have foxes, perhaps in part because red foxes find less competition with coyotes inside a city.

There is evidence that coyotes know how to exploit any area, rural or urban, for hunting and foraging. Foxes often roost above the ground, just sheltered from the wind along a weedy fence, above the snow, with its nose tucked into the long fur of its tail. With alert eyes and ears, the fox is ready to take advantage of any new hunting opportunity.

The mating of the fox takes place at the end of January and the beginning of February and the gestation lasts from 49 to 56 days. The kits are born in late March or early April, and they are covered in gray fur and have their eyes closed. The eyes open about a week and a half after birth and weaning occurs at two months of age.

There can be four to ten kits born in a litter, which means both male and female adult fox parents will be busy finding food for their families. Typical foods are moles, shrews, weasels, rabbits or birds hiding on the ground. If more food is captured than they need, some may be hidden in hiding places and then moved later to be eaten.

On February 6 at 2 p.m., a bald eagle will be brought to Le Grand Pioneer Library by a representative of SOAR, Save Our Avian Raptors. This eagle cannot be released into the wild due to a previous injury, so it now serves as an ambassador to help learn more about birds of prey. This is just one winter wildlife experience you might want to put on your bucket list.

The February events of this month have many connections to natural history. To begin with, the length of the day on February 1 was 10 hours. On the last day of this month, the length of our days will have increased to 11 hours and 10 minutes. This is a pretty good celestial sign of warmer spring temperatures to come. We have to adapt and endure another two cold months.

Historical air temperature records show that Marshalltown had a high of 73 on February 18, 2017, and our lowest temperature was -35 a few years prior. Average temperatures in the mid to upper 30s are typical.

I’m sure you’ve noticed how easy it is for people to adjust to those late winter or early spring days when above normal air temperatures gradually invade the landscape, making remove any residual snow cover.

In February, bald eagles will defend territories and nesting sites, and horned owls sit on nests. Listen carefully during the night to hear the owls calling out to each other. It is a coded speech between owls that only they understand perfectly.

On February 9 beginning at approximately 5:30 p.m., the Izaak Walton League will host a Wild Game Meal at the Consumer’s Energy office located at Highways 30 and 330. Wild game meat dishes of all kinds will be pre-prepared by the members. Members and guests are encouraged to join in the fun to sample these types of wild foods. The evening program will be a presentation by Bob Backes on a hike he did several years ago in Nepal.

On February 12, 1875, residents of the Amana region were able to find the remains of a meteorite that had survived its plunge into the Earth’s atmosphere. This rock from outer space was a good piece of material to survive its heated frictional path through the atmosphere, and it tipped the scales at 800 pounds.

On February 19, a Saturday, the Izaak Walton League will host a clay bird shoot, a smaller version, of five stations and 50 targets. The cost will be $20 for shooters 19 and older. Under 18s, if accompanied by an adult shooter, can enter for free. The Ikes courts are located at 2601 Smith Ave., two miles south of Iowa Avenue on the southeast side of Marshalltown.

February 20 is the date for the removal of coolers from natural or man-made lakes in Iowa. This is to prevent a winter thaw that could isolate these fishing huts on dangerous ice. One way or another, the owner of the cooler is responsible for removing the cooler before Mother Nature tries to sink it. If it leaks, it must be removed at the owner’s expense. Small tent type coolers are loaded each day at the end of the fishing period, so they are not a problem.

The Iowa Deer Classic will be held in Des Moines at the Events Center from March 4-6. Everything about deer, deer habitat and deer hunting will be on display, and of course there is the big money contest where owners can bring their sets of antlers to score. The top contenders in various categories will receive a wooden plaque for their achievement.

It’s the highlight of Sunday afternoon just before the show closes. During the show, many seminars will be held to help educate attendees on things relevant to deer biology and deer hunting. Check the Iowa Deer Classic website for schedules and programs.

The next Pheasant Fest will take place in Omaha from March 11-13. This is the largest upland trade show and convention in the country, and there is something for everyone, including hunters, landowners, bird dog enthusiasts and trainers, cooking enthusiasts of wild game and wildlife habitat advocates. Over 400 vendors will be on hand to help educate attendees on the big issues and success stories of upland birds. Learn more at the website.

Quote: “I go into nature to be soothed and healed, and to bring my senses back into harmony.

—John Burroughs,

naturalist and essayist.

Garry Brandenburg graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in fish and wildlife biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.

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