The more I learn about foxes, the more I like them. This will come as no surprise to readers, as I’ve written several stories about foxes over the years, mainly on how they inevitably outsmart my dogs.
Now, though, I’ve got more examples of how smart, or at least adaptable, they are.
For example, I started hearing about an interesting fox feeding strategy around November, when people started up their bird feeders for the winter.
In hind sight, it started even before then. Last year, I noticed a fox kept pooping on our bird feeder at home.
I thought the fox was simply taunting the dog. You know, a kind of Monty Python-like insult on the order of “I poop in your favourite places and your mother smells of cats”.
I finally got a chance to see what was really going on this past fall when a fox showed up at our house in broad daylight.
Without so much as a how do you do, it leapt up onto the bird feeder and started grazing. Or maybe browsing. Whatever foxes do. It was definitely eating sunflower seeds.
But that’s not all.
While doing our rounds for the Christmas Bird Count, I started hearing about foxes making daring raids on other birdfeeders. This winter, Bob Reside and Cathy Widdowson have reported seeing one at their feeder almost daily, and one day Bob had three of them visiting the yard at one time.
George Hartlen and Val Pankratz can top that – they had five of them at their feeder in the fall, although that number has now dropped to three at a time. I have to assume that this was a vixen and her kits – either that or foxes are starting to form packs.
So, despite being carnivores, these foxes may have come to realize that going vegetarian has some advantages.
Most notable of these is that sunflower seeds don’t put up much of a fight. And imagine the dietary fibre – what happy colons they must have.
Of course sunflower seeds are full of energy.
For example, I’ll quote from some random website that sounded authentic: “They are high in energy, 100 g seeds consist of 584 calories .... they are incredible sources of nutrients, minerals, antioxidants and vitamins”.
And foxes like them, too.
Knowing the spillage/leftovers from birdfeeders also attract voles and mice, I wouldn’t doubt the foxes are doing a little sideline hunting at the same time as they are scarfing down birdseed.
Nothing better than sunflower-fattened mice to go with your sunflower seed salad.
So, there you have it – foxes have adapted to eating sunflower seeds. But wait, there’s more to this story.
At the end of January, Rae and I spotted something even more interesting. While snowshoeing along Octopus Lake, we came across a couple of freshly dug trenches in the snow.
And I mean trenches.
A fox or foxes had dug out an area about 8 metres long and at least 1 metre deep along the edge of the lake. Why would they go to all of this trouble?
The trenches exposed freshwater springs seeping into the lake, and these springs were filled with Brook Stickleback.
It was obvious that the fox had been actively fishing - some of the springs were so full of little fish that I could have scooped out several handfuls with ease.
What a great source of protein and essential fatty acids. However, I’m not sure the minnows taste that great - I know from personal experience that sticklebacks pretty much taste like greasy fishy snacks with overtones of stinky slough water.
However, given that this fishing fox is likely the same one that comes to my feeder, he’s now got his carbs, proteins, and fats covered. And boy, you should see how his fur gleams in the sunlight, all shiny and healthy, what with all those natural oils he’s eating.
Which may not be the best look for a fur bearer to have in winter. Oh well, I’m sure he’s smart enough to keep his skin until spring.
At least I hope so... otherwise I’ll run out of things to write about.
Ken Kingdon lives and works in the Riding Mountain Biosphere Reserve. If you have stories about alternative sources of fox food, give him a call at (204) 848-7240.