CAMDEN — This spring and early summer, a mother fox and her three kits have kept the residents of Chestnut, Cedar and Limerock streets entertained, as they have been spotted numerous times here and there. There have been late-night alarm calls by the vixen, which sounds like a woman’s scream and has startled many who are unfamiliar with the shrill. There have been ravens and crows cawing on end, until eventually the mother fox appears, is sometimes seen and further frightened by a barking dog and scurries off.
The big black birds are often a good indicator that a predator is lurking nearby, either on the ground or in an adjacent tree. It might be a simple house cat, stalking a bird or mouse, or it could be an owl, osprey or even a bald eagle. When it’s a bird of prey, one often finds the crows and ravens teaming up to try and overwhelm and harass the bird to eventually move on. In any case, it’s always a good idea to soften the eyes, slowly look up and around and try to spy what has rattled the bird’s cage, and cause it to sound the alarm to other creatures.
This spring’s fox family made the backyards of the Gales and Nelsons on Cedar Street their playground, while mom skulked around the rest of the residential streets hunting rodent meals for her growing young. Word amongst the neighbors is that the mother gave birth to her kits under a porch on Chestnut Street, which explains why they never ventured too far from the immediate area as they grew, play-fought and learned to hunt.
Charlie Gale shared a set of photos of one of the Memorial Day appearances of mom and her kits, an backyard visit long enough for a variety of candid photos last month. Last week, he shared what appears to be their final foray romping in his backyard, as well as a cavorting in a horseshoe pit in the yard next door.
It’s hard to know for sure if the fox family has truly moved on to better hunting, more abundant hunting grounds, or if they are all just exploring more of their approximately 12-mile home range than they have so far this spring and early summer. Family groups, including both mom and dad who raise the young together, typically stay together through September. According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, pups disperse from the family group and settle in new territories between 20 and 40 miles away, with the males traveling further than the females. Quite often, the females will share their mother’s territories. Red fox have a lifespan of about five years in the wild, with mortality most often caused by trapping, hunting and road kills.
Other factors that determine a fox’ home range include abundance of food, competition, type and diversity of habitat, and presence of natural and physical barriers. On average, the home range of the fox is around 12 miles, according to an MDIFW assessment by Mark Caron.
Time will tell if the resident chipmunks, red squirrels, mice and voles survived the seemingly successful hunting efforts of this mother fox, but there's probably plenty more around the larger area to take up residence in vacated burrows and nests until next spring. And as the fox family expands its home territory, all of those rodents will be pushed to find another home, or risk becoming a meal.
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