Red Fox: One smart canine

PHOTOS BY GARRY BRANDENBURG — A red fox is a common wild canine critter found over much of the continental North America. Today’s image was a lucky circumstance for this photographer while driving rural roadways in Butler County. As I crested a small hill, in the field beside me was a red fox. It ran parallel to the gravel road and when it stopped, I attempted to make images with a long lens and camera. That was easier said than done, but I tried and obtained a few acceptable, but not outstanding, images of a red fox. Its rusty red fur makes for an appropriate name for this 10 to 14 pound animal.

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

What we will not see are mice and voles in their tunnels under the snow at ground level within their tiny “jungle” of grasses and forbs of a native grassland. Later on, during early spring after snow melt, those tunnels and runways will become evident. Those pathways were places where the critters searched for seeds to eat.

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

The astronomical name is better — vernal equinox — meaning equal day and night times. Our earth is just doing its thing by orbiting the sun, and we will be glad to see the sun again, instead of thick overcast cloud layers.

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

There is evidence that coyotes know how to exploit any area, rural or city, to hunt and eat. Foxes often sleep above ground, just out of the wind along a weedy fence row, on top of the snow, with its nose tucked into the long fur of its tail. With eyes and ears on high alert, the fox is ready to take advantage of any new hunting opportunity.

Fox mating takes place in late January and early February, and gestation takes 49 to 56 days. Kits are born in late March or early April, and they are covered with gray fur and eyes closed. Eyes open about a week and a half after they are born, and weaning takes place at two months of age.

There can be four to up to 10 kits born to a litter, which means that both the male and female adult fox parents will be busy finding food for their family. Typical foods are moles, shrews, weasels, rabbits or ground hiding birds. If more food is captured than they need, some may be cached in hiding places then relocated later to be eaten.

On Feb. 6, at 2 p.m., a bald eagle will be brought to the Le Grand Pioneer Library by a representative of SOAR, Save Our Avian Raptors. This eagle is not releasable into the wild because of a prior injury, so now it serves as an ambassador to help learn about birds of prey. This is just one winter wildlife experience you may want to put on your to do list.

February happenings this month have lots of natural history connections. For starters, the day length on Feb. 1 was 10 hours. On the last day of this month, our day length will have increased to 11 hours and 10 minutes. That is a pretty good celestial sign of warmer spring temperatures to come. We must adapt and endure two more cold months.

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

I’m sure you have 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 any residual snow cover disappear.

During February, bald eagles will be defending territories and nest sites, and great-horned owls are sitting on nests. Listen carefully during the night time to hear owls hooting their calls to each other. It is code talk between owls that only they fully comprehend.

On Feb. 9 beginning at about 5:30 pm, the Izaak Walton League will host a wild game feed at the Consumer’s Energy office located at highway 30 and 330. Wild game meat dishes of all kinds will be prepared ahead of time by members. Members and guests are encouraged to join the fun to sample those wild food types. The evening program will be a presentation from Bob Backes on a hike he made several years ago in Nepal.

On Feb. 12, 1875, Amana area residents were able to find the remains of a meteorite that survived its dive into earth’s atmosphere. This outer space rock was a good chunk of material to survive its heated friction trajectory through the atmosphere, and it tipped the scale at 800 pounds.

On Feb. 19, a Saturday, the Izaak Walton League will host a clay bird shoot, smaller version, of five stations and 50 targets. The cost will be $20 for shooters age 19 or more. Those younger than 18, if with an adult shooter, can get in for free. The Ikes grounds are located at 2601 Smith Ave., two miles south of Iowa Avenue on the southeast side of Marshalltown.

Feb. 20 is the date for removal of ice houses from Iowa natural or made-made lakes. This is to prevent a winter thaw that could isolate those fishing shacks on unsafe ice. One way or another, the ice house owner is responsible for removing the ice house before Mother Nature tries to sink it. If it does sink, it must be removed at the owner’s expense. Little tent type ice houses are loaded up each day at the end of fishing time so they are not an issue.

The Iowa Deer Classic will be held in Des Moines at the Events Center from Mar. 4-6. Everything related to deer, deer habitat and deer hunting will be on display, and of course, there is the big buck contest whereby owners may bring in their antler sets for scoring. Top contenders in various categories will be awarded a wooden plaque for their achievement.

This is the Sunday afternoon highlight just before the close of the show. During the show, many seminars will be held to help inform attendees of things pertinent to deer biology and deer hunting. Check out the website for Iowa Deer Classic for program lineups and times.

The next Pheasant Fest will be held in Omaha from Mar. 11-13. This is the nation’s largest upland trade show and convention, and it has something for everybody including hunters, landowners, bird dog lovers and trainers, wild game cooking enthusiasts, and wildlife habitat conservationists. More than 400 vendors will be present to help inform attendees of great upland bird issues and successes. Find out more at the website pheasantsforever.org.

Quote: “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and have my senses put in tune once more.”

— John Burroughs,

naturalist and essayist.

Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & 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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