Gray Fox Report for March 2018
Urban Gray Fox’s Unusual Territory
Since there are no gray foxes at the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, and I don’t expect any to make it their home range until possibly late November through early January 2019. I will continue substituting varied information about select events and the wildlife that make the baylands their home.
The injured raccoon that I wrote about in last month’s report has improved considerably. Although not completely healed, the raccoon can and does put weight on its hind leg. Right now it’s still limping, but walking on all four feet.
Gray Fox Territory Is Not What You Think
When I came into this study, I was under the impression that when one talked about an animal’s territory that meant that a region of land had been staked out by the animal and that it would be staunchly defended year round. The Encyclopedia Britannica states, “Territorial behavior, in zoology, the methods by which an animal, or group of animals, protects its territory from incursions by others of its species. Territorial boundaries may be marked by … scents such as pheromones secreted by the skin glands of many mammals. If such advertisement does not discourage intruders, chases, and fighting follow.” It goes on to state, “Territories may be seasonal….”
As I observed the behavior of some 14 gray foxes, it became obvious that there were variations in the manner by which each pair of foxes took care of their territories. For instance, Mama Bold & her mate Gray were rather inconsistent, meaning that sometimes they would seriously defend their region but at other times they simply didn’t challenge a trespasser. On the other hand, Brownie and his mate Helper staunchly and actively defended their space.
One evening out on the Adobe Loop Trail, right at the junction where three levee roads met, Brownie followed me. We walked on over toward the observation deck but stopped about halfway there. I turned to look back. Another gray fox named Tippy came around the corner and into Brownie’s territory. Immediately, he focused his attention on her, extended his legs to make himself look taller, raised his back to give himself more bulk, notched his tail, laid his ears back flat on his head and then did his almost dainty, tiptoe dance before charging into the fight. He dashed off after Tippy, but when she saw him coming, she ran back onto safe ground. Brownie stopped and looked back in my direction. I called to him to come on back to where I stood.
Beginning in mid-March the pair scent marked and left feces often in plain sight, thus marking the boundaries of their region. These markers sent notice to all other gray foxes in the area or others just passing through that the area that was taken and by whom. Their territorial defense continued through the summer and into early August. By that time, but before dispersing, the pups were able to hunt on their own. They were rather independent by then and so it was at that time of year that the adults stopped defending and marking their territory. By so doing, it allowed all other dispersing young gray foxes free and open territory to pass through so that they could find a mate and to locate their own home range. In the end, then, territory for the urban gray foxes is not year round as I once thought, but seasonal.
Gray Foxes General Health
To date, no gray foxes at the Palo Alto baylands during February.
Total Numbers Of Gray Foxes in the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve
Update for the Urban Wildlife Research Project – Greg Kerekes & Bill Leikam
Next public presentation by Bill “The Fox Guy” Leikam: A Year with the Urban Gray Fox – Safari West, April 20, 2018, at 7:00 PM.
- Check out our Facebook page.
- If you haven’t had a chance to read at least some of the articles that have been written about our study of gray fox behavior and our corridor work, click on these links as they will take you to the source: Bill Leikam – The Fox Guy, and Greg Kerekes & URWP
Section III: Gray Fox, Baylands Goals
Within the permit that allows the Urban Wildlife Research Project to conduct its study of the behavior of the gray fox at the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, the objectives covered area:
- Monitoring of urban gray fox Denning sites in Palo Alto Baylands.
This is being accomplished during the period when the gray foxes use a den site. It is one of the prime locations for gathering most of the behavioral data of the litter and for adults alike.
- Assessment of status and population trends of Baylands urban gray foxes
Since November and December of 2016, there have been no resident gray foxes at the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve.
- Identification of habitat features that promote the presence of urban gray foxes
After considering this and talking with people who know how to restore habitats, we need to assess what kinds of plants, including the Alkaline Salt Bush, would grow best along the edge of the saltwater channel and alongside the marsh. We need to grow a permanent habitat that contains the corridors and plant it as soon as possible. We’ll keep an eye on this as this is a critical link between the southern region of the Baylands and the northern region.
- Assessment of reproductive success and identification of factors that promote successful reproduction
Open up the pinch-point along Matadero Creek by developing thickets that link one area to another, instead of the present “islands”.
- Identification and assessment of possible dispersal travel routes.
Presently there can only be guesses as to dispersal travel routes. We intend to make this important question much more concrete when we attain our collaring/take/capture permit from the Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Until next month, I hope that your endeavors provoke thought, are productive, and are rewarding. Take care.
Bill Leikam – The Fox Guy
CEO & President,
Urban Wildlife Research Project
A Nonprofit 501 C3
“If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them, and what you do not know you will fear. What one fears one destroys.” Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, British Columbia
“Failure is a wonderful professor.” From my book Autobiography of a Gray Fox, 2017 wcl
Within the seeds of philosophy, the forest of science is born. wcl – 2018