February 26, 2018

Stories to Tell - What Time is it Mr. Fox?

By Eric D'Aleo

The children at Blue Heron School play a game called What Time is it Mr. Fox? A child who is the Fox calls out a time (1 o'clock - 12 o'clock). The other children take that many steps toward the fox. When the group gets close to the fox, but not past him, and asks, “What time is it?” the fox yells, "Midnight," and turns and chases the group around to tag someone. The children enjoy the game and play it often.

Watching the children play got me wondering if our trail cameras could tell us anything about red fox activity throughout a year. It turns out, they can.

By looking at the information collected from each camera from January through December, red fox were photographed or videoed over 1,600 times. We plotted the number of sightings with the time each image was captured and graphed it. The results are in the charts below.

Red fox are most active early in the morning from midnight until five o’clock in the morning and in the evening from five o’clock till midnight. The highest activity occurs at three o’clock in the morning and six o’clock in the evening. Even though activity levels drop dramatically during daylight hours, and remains low, it’s still about sixteen percent of peak activity level. So unlike in the game where midnight is the time when Mr. Fox comes out to hunt, seven o’clock at night is more accurate. The data collected here at the Science Center corroborates research defining red fox as crepuscular, active at dawn and dusk, or nocturnal, active at night. But what about monthly activity during the year, are there some months with higher activity than others?

It appears there is one time of year when the sightings peak, which is early spring. This is when red fox raise

their young. One camera was positioned near a fox den. We saw the first sightings of the pups outside the den, early in April at night. When they were young, the pups required parental supervision. An adult red fox watched over them while they ran around, played together, and investigated their surroundings. As I reviewed video footage I was reminded of a human parent watching their children play at a playground. The camera also recorded evidence of the parents bringing food to their offspring and scenes of pups fighting over feathers and woodchuck fur. As the year progressed into summer the young foxes were still around and sighted by the camera, but less often. They may have been learning how to hunt from their parents or accompanying them as they patrolled their territory. There was no need for them to return to the den on a regular basis. By autumn the sightings declined suggesting the breakup of the family and the dispersal of the pups in search of their own territories.

What I find interesting is that this information leads to asking other questions about red fox on Science Center property. Do they have a preference for a particular natural community (field or forest)? Do they use a community more at one time of the year than at another time? What other species in the area are active at the same time of day? Are they most active at the same time of the year? Do they have the same habitat preferences? Answers to these questions may be found on line or in a library, but carrying out these observations on our property gives us a better understanding of what is happening locally. It helps us better appreciate of the land and provides an understanding of the requirements and habits of the animals living here. This information can be helpful to landowners considering how changes to a piece of property will affect local wildlife. What time is it for the animals where you live?

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