Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Urban Fox and Coyotes

I got an email the other day from an outfit in the U.K. interested in doing a documentary on urban foxes. The were particularly interested in fox dens, and my description of den construction. How could they find a fox den, and perhaps take a cast of it?

I directed them to the work of David MacDonald who has tracked fox all over London, and suggested if they wanted to see a working fox den "any old gamekeeper should be able to help you but they are not going to be interested in wrecking the thing or in romanticizing the fox.  Fox are generally harmless, and are valued, but like any thing they can be a nuisance in the wrong place.  In short, fox are neither demons nor saint -- they are like feral cats, and in fact occupy that niche quite well."

I also noted that fox only den underground for a short part of the year, and that in an urban environment, that might not be in a dirt den, but in a crawl space under an outbuilding, under old roofing or detritus in a dump, under or inside an abandoned car, or inside a dry drain.

Of course, here in the U.S. we have urban and suburban fox almost everywhere, and I can get photos of them almost any night.

We now also have growing numbers of suburban and even urban coyotes.

In an essay called New Dog in Town, Christopher Ketcham writes that:

Wild Coyotes have settled in or around every major city in the United States, thriving as never before, and in New York they have taken to golf. I'm told that the New Yorker coyotes spend a good deal of time near the tenth hole on the Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course in the Bronx. They apparently like to watch the players tee off among the Canada geese. They hunt squirrels and rabbits and wild turkeys along the edge of the forest surrounding the course, where there are big old hardwoods and ivy that looks like it could strangle a man—good habitat in which to den, skulk, plan. Sometimes in summer the coyotes emerge from the steam of the woods to chew golf balls and spit them onto the grass in disgust.

Until recently, I couldn't quite believe that coyotes were established New Yorkers. Among neophyte naturalists it's an anomaly, a bizarrerie, something like a miracle. Coyotes, after all, are natives of the high plains and deserts two thousand miles to the west. But for anyone who takes the time to get to know coyotes, their coming to the city is a development as natural as water finding a way downhill. It is also a lesson in evolution that has gone largely unheralded. Not in pristine wilderness, but here, amid the splendor of garbage cans filthy with food, the golf carts crawling on the fairway like alien bugs, in a park full of rats and feral cats and dullard chipmunks and thin rabbits and used condoms and bums camping out and drunks pissing in the brush, a park ringed by arguably the most urbanized ingathering of Homo sapiens in America—here the coyote thrives. It seemed to me good news....

From California to Maine, there are more coyotes than at any time since records have been kept, their territorial expansion unprecedented in speed and scope....

That the coyote has expanded his range does not surprise biologists. What does confound is the suggestion, hotly debated, that the coyotes now taking over the eastern United States in fact represent a new subspecies of wild dog on the continent, the Canis latrans varietas. The western coyote is a smaller creature than the eastern cousin. The westerner weighs in at perhaps thirty pounds, looking somewhat like a fat fox. The eastern coyote grows as big as sixty pounds at his heftiest.... Chuck Jones, the animator, pegged the Trickster, in cartoon Latin, as Eatibus anythingus. Which is true: coyotes eat garbage, darkness, rats, air — they'd lap my beer if I let them.

1 comment:

Pet (petpisces) said...

I enjoy the thought greatly that even as we destroy this earth and the wildernesses in which coyote and other animals once thrived that they can manage to survive, adapt even. Where these creatures could rightfully wage war againt humans, they have accepted us and have learned that where there a humans they find food. I have a coyote that has taken up in my neighborhood and he's seen roaming the same path as the deer. I see him as a benefit because he causes no trouble. I'm comforted by and welcome him,even because he's hunting the very rodent that could carry disease as well as the ones that eat my garden. It's prideful to know the ecosystem in my area is rolling along :)i I'm not sure if my neighbors know about our coyote and I hope they don't set out to shoot him....

As for the the coyote hanging out at the golf course- thats awesome! They find us either entertaining or helpful to their hunts! It also lets me believe they acknowledge our superiority.

Great post :)