Red Fox and Gray Fox
When the learning session began the following morning not one four-legged friend was missing. You see, with the exception of Jimmy Skunk and Prickly Porcupine, there was not one in whose life Reddy Fox did not have a most important part. Even Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel and Chatterer the Red Squirrel, tree folk though they were, had many times narrowly missed furnishing Reddy with a dinner. As for Johnny Chuck and Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare and Striped Chipmunk and Danny Meadow Mouse and Whitefoot the Wood Mouse, there were few hours of the day or night when they did not have Reddy in mind, knowing that to forget him even for a few minutes might mean the end of them.
Just imagine these little folks getting comfortably seated for the morning session when Reddy himself steps out from behind a tree. Never before was there such a commotion! In the blink of an eye Mother Nature was alone, save for Reddy Fox, Jimmy Skunk, and in the trees Prickly Porky the Porcupine and Happy Jack and Chatterer the Squirrel.
Reddy Fox looked uncomfortable. “I didn’t mean to break up your morning session,” he said to Mother Nature. “I wouldn’t have thought of coming if you hadn’t sent for me.”
Mother Nature smiled. “I didn’t tell any one that I was going to send for you, Reddy,” she said, “for I was afraid that if I did nobody would come this morning. I promised them a surprise, and it is very clear that no one guessed what that surprise was to be. Reddy, if you wouldn’t mind, please go over by that old stump near the Lone Little Path and have a seat.”
Then Mother Nature called each of the little four-legged friends by name requesting they each return at once. She spoke gently and yet with a firm and reassuring voice to encourage everyone to join her. One by one they appeared from all sorts of hiding places, glancing fearfully towards Reddy Fox, and looking to Mother Nature for extra reassurance.
When at last they were all crowded about her as closely as they could get Mother Nature spoke with her soft voice. “Reddy Fox is here because I sent for him, and he is going to sit right where he is until I tell him he can go, and not one of you will be harmed by him. To begin with, I am going to tell you one or two facts about Reddy, and then I am going to find out just how much you have learned about him on your own.”
“It may seem odd to you that Reddy Fox belongs to the same family as Bowser the Hound, and yet it is true. Both are members of the Dog family and are quite closely related. Howler the Wolf and Old Man Coyote are also members of the family, so all are cousins. Look closely at Reddy and you will see at once that he looks very much like a small Dog with a beautiful red coat, white waistcoat, black feet and bushy tail. Now Peter, you probably know as much about Reddy as any one here. Could you tell us what you have learned in your efforts to keep out of his clutches?”
Peter scratched a long ear thoughtfully and glanced sideways at Reddy Fox. “I certainly ought to know something about him,” he began. “He was the very first four-legged folk my mother warned me to watch for, because she said he was especially fond of young Rabbits and was the smartest predator. Since then I have found out that she knew just what she was talking about.” Johnny Chuck, Danny Meadow Mouse and Whitefoot the Wood Mouse nodded as if they quite agreed. Then Peter continued, “Reddy lives chiefly by hunting, and in his turn he is hunted, so he needs to have sharp wits. When he isn’t hunting me he is hunting Danny Meadow Mouse or Whitefoot or Striped Chipmunk or Mrs. Grouse, or Bob White, or is trying to steal one of Farmer Brown’s Chickens, or is catching Frogs along the edge of the Smiling Pool, or grasshoppers out in the Green Meadows. So far as I can make out, anything Reddy can catch supplies him with food.”
Reddy Fox, who had been listening with a grin on his face said, “I am also rather fond of certain kinds of fruits, sometimes fish, and eggs too.”
Peter continued by stating “Reddy Fox hunts with his ears, eyes, and nose. Many a time I’ve watched him listening for the squeak of Danny Meadow Mouse or watching for the grass to move and show where Danny was hiding; and many a time he has found my scent with his wonderful nose and followed me just as Bowser the Hound follows him. I guess there isn’t much going on that Reddy’s eyes, ears and nose don’t tell him. And it is Reddy’s quick wits that the rest of us fear most. We never know what new trick he will try. Lots of predators are easy to fool, although Reddy isn’t one of them. Sometimes I think he knows more about me than I know about myself. I guess it is just pure luck that he hasn’t caught me with some of those smart tricks of his.”
“Reddy hunts both day and night, although I think he prefers night. I guess it all depends on how hungry he is. More than once I’ve seen him bringing home a Chicken, and I am told that he is smart enough not to steal Chickens near his home, rather to always go some distance to get them. Also I’ve been told that he is too clever to go to the same Chicken yard two nights in succession. He doesn’t seem to mind being chased by Bowser the Hound at all.”
“Actually, I don’t,” spoke up Reddy. “I rather enjoy it. It gives me good exercise. Any time I can’t fool Bowser by breaking my trail so he can’t find it again, I deserve to be caught.”
Mother Nature nodded and said “ Reddy, where do you and Mrs. Fox make your home? And how do you raise your babies?”
“This year our home is up in the Old Pasture,” replied Reddy. “We have the nicest kind of a house dug in the ground underneath a big rock. It has only one entrance since there is no need of any other. No one could possibly dig us out there. Last year our home was on the Green Meadows and there were three doorways to that. The year before we dug our house in a gravelly bank just within the edge of the Green Forest. The babies are born in a comfortable bedroom deep underground. Sometimes we have a storeroom in addition to the bedroom; there Mrs. Fox and I can keep food when there is more than can be eaten at one meal. When the babies are first born in the spring and Mrs. Fox cannot leave them, I take food to her. When the youngsters are big enough to use their sharp little teeth, we take turns hunting food for them. Usually we hunt separately, and sometimes we hunt together. You know often two can do what one cannot. If Bowser the Hound happens to find the trail of Mrs. Fox when there are babies at home, she leads him far away from our home. Then I join her, and take her place so that she can slip away and go back to the babies. Bowser never knows the difference.
“Our pups are well trained if I do say it. We teach them how to hunt, how to fool their predators, and all the tricks we have learned. No one has a better training than a young Fox.”
“I want you all to know that Reddy Fox and Mrs. Fox mate for life,” said Mother Nature. “Reddy is the best of fathers and the best of mates.”
“Now, here is a tricky question for you little four-legged folks,” said Mother Nature. “When is a Red Fox not a Red Fox?” Everybody blinked. Most of them looked as if they thought Mother Nature must be joking. Then suddenly Chatterer the Red Squirrel, whose wits are naturally quick, remembered how Mother Nature had told them that there were black Gray Squirrels. “When he is some other color,” cried Chatterer.
“Right you are!” said Mother Nature. “Once in a while a pair of Red Foxes will have a baby who hasn’t a red hair on him. He will be all black, with perhaps just the tip of his tail white. Or his fur will be all black just tipped with white. Then he is called a Black Fox or Silver Fox. He is still a Red Fox, yet there is nothing red about him. Sometimes the fur is only partly marked with black and then he is called a Cross Fox. A great many people have supposed that the Black or Silver Fox and the Cross Fox were distinct kinds. They are not. They are simply Red Foxes with different coats.”
“There’s one thing I do envy about Reddy,” Peter Rabbit spoke up, “and that is that big tail of his. It is a wonderful tail. I wish I had one like it.”
Everybody let out a burst of laugher as they tried to picture Peter Rabbit with a big tail like that of Reddy Fox. “I am afraid you wouldn’t get far if you had to carry that around,” said Mother Nature. “Even Reddy finds it rather a burden in wet weather when it becomes heavy with water. That is one reason you do not find him abroad much when it is raining or in winter when the snow is soft and wet. Reddy Fox is at home all over the northern half of this country, and everywhere he is the same clever fellow whom you all know so well.”
“In the South and some parts of the East and West, Reddy has a cousin of about his own size whose coat is gray with red on the sides of his neck, ears and across his breast. The under part of his body is reddish, his throat and the middle of his breast are white. He is called the Gray Fox. He prefers the Green Forest to the open country. He is a better runner. Instead of making his home in a hole in the ground, he usually chooses a hollow tree-trunk or hollow log. The babies are born in a nest of leaves in the bottom of a hollow tree. He is the only Fox that climbs trees.”
“In any case, both Red and Gray Foxes are curious and clever.”
“Now I think this will do for Reddy Fox. Reddy is going to stay right here with me, until the rest of you have had a chance to get home. After that you will have to watch out for yourselves as usual. Tomorrow we will take up Reddy’s big cousins, the Wolves.”
- What phrases have you heard folks say in reference to a fox? Quotes? Catchphrases? Songs? Fables? What type of characters do foxes usually represent in stories? Can you think of a few stories with foxes in them? Would you like to create a story or cartoon with a fox character in your nature journal? Perhaps hum a little ditty or foxy tune you make along the way?
- Visit this LINK for more information and photos of foxes provided by the Mass Audubon Society.