A red fox (Vulpes vulpes) crossed my path today. It ran across Main Street in Glen Rock, entered the shallow woods along the railroad tracks, sat down, and watched me and my dog walk by. (The dog was very interested.) We’ve known for years that foxes live all along the railroad tracks, and we occasionally see them at dawn or dusk, but I’ve never seen one in the middle of the afternoon before. But it’s breeding season, when wild animals are more likely to be seen.
I’ve always been glad to see foxes, given the enormous numbers of rabbits and other herbivores that plague me and other gardeners. (I’m also glad to see hawks and would be delighted to know that coyotes came to this area–I know they’re common farther north.) Foxes are predators, but since they’re only about the size of housecats and are extremely shy of humans, the environmental benefits they confer far outweigh any possible dangers they pose.
Scientists are divided on whether the red fox is a native species, a hybrid of a native species with the European red fox, or an introduced species. What’s generally agreed is that red foxes are omnivores, although they do a great deal of hunting, primarily of small mammals such as rabbits; that they are mostly active at night; and that they are solitary except when breeding and raising young.
Many people are alarmed by the mere presence of a predator, and it’s true that foxes, like all wild mammals, carry diseases. So certainly we should not feed or attempt to handle any wild animals. However, foxes are small and retiring and never threaten humans; on the contrary, they perform an important service by keeping down the rabbit population. The reason we suburbanites have so much trouble with herbivores such as rabbits and deer is that we’ve eliminated the predators that are the natural control of their populations. Let’s root for the foxes and coyotes and hawks and rejoice in every sign that nature is working. Go foxes!