The red fox and I are on the same morning schedule: between 9 and 10 he hunts, all flame and cleverness, and I practice the recorder. Yesterday, as I was doing scales, he pranced out of the woods across the road and caught one of the obese gray squirrels that gorge on spilled seed under our bird feeder. There was a high-speed tussle and somehow the squirrel, who must have had some muscle under all that fat, got away. The fox shrugged, and trotted off in the direction of the lake (for you non-Vermonters, that’s Lake Champlain).
Later, as I wrestled with an ornery passage of Telemann, I glanced out the window and there was the fox again, headed back towards the woods, with not one, but two squirrels in his mouth.
These were not infant squirrels, but full-grown, well-nourished ones. How do I know there were two? Because, due to the weight of his catch, the fox was trotting slowly, and I had plenty of time to stare, blink, stare again, and verify that there were two luxurious squirrel tails flopping out of his jaws. Have you ever watched a snake dislocate its jaw in order to swallow its prey? Then you have an idea of how wide my fox was holding his mouth.
How did he kill two squirrels? It seems impossible that he would have killed them both at the same time, so did he kill #1 and then see #2, put down #1, kill #2, come back, and retrieve #1? And why two squirrels? You’d think that a single plump one would suffice for such a well-muscled, shiny-coated fox as this one. Was my fox hoarding squirrels?
I still don’t know the answer to the first question. But I think I know the answer to the second. Foxes in Vermont mate in January and February. With a gestation of 49 to 53 days, it is reasonable to assume that my fox was taking the squirrels to his wife and children holed up in their den in the woods.
Now I worry about them all. How many babies are there? What if the father fails to find food? What if he gets run over while crossing the road? I’ll help him by keeping the bird feeders full so there’s plenty of spilled seed for the squirrels. As for getting run over, not only does the road between my house and the woods have a 15 mile/hour speed limit, but now that we humans are hunkered in our own dens, the traveling fox is probably safer than he has ever been.
This morning, at the appointed time, he swung past our house in the direction of the lake. I saw him crouch down and start to go after something. But he changed his mind, turned his head, looked at me, and trotted off. On his return trip he had something small and black in his jaws.