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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

While I no longer live in the Northeast, my favorite natural history magazine is the quarterly NORTHERN WOODLANDS...............Published out of Vermont, this excellent publication is chock full of information on wildlife and perpetuating the biodiversity of New England and NY State............Editor Dave Mance posted a interesting commentary on whether Eastern Coyotes(or for that matter Western Coyotes) have been displacing both Red and Gray Foxes when they are all sympatric in a given system..........I provided Dave with some peer reviewed insights(as did other readers) on this subject suggesting that Coyotes while not historically an east coast animal, are very much native and not an invasive species as they have naturally expanded and colonized the whole of the USA due to us eliminating Wolves and Pumas and altering the landscape with our farms, suburban neighborhoods and the like.................Most of the literature suggests that because Gray Foxes climb trees and inhabit deep woodlands, they are better able to avoid Coyote predation...................Red Foxes are more a field and woods edge species like Coyotes so dispersing Red Foxes can get run down by Coyotes and as a result, many Red Foxes are living on the fringes of core Coyotes habitat as well as denning in closer to human habitation where Coyotes might or might not be as welcome by their human neighbors..............Just as the Coyotes out West that coexist with Wolves do so by living on the margins between Wolf Packs, so will the Red Foxes adapt and make their livings accordingly around Coyotes

Trying to Throw my Mind Around a Story | Northern Woodlands Magazine

Trying to Throw my Mind Around a Story

Trying to Throw my Mind Around a Story image
one of Red fox. Photo by Gary Lehman.
One of the ways we try to differentiate ourselves from the traditional environmental media is by looking at things evenly. For example, a press release showed up in my inbox the other day with a headline that screamed: Cold Snap Will Be A Killer For Birds, Group Warns. We didn’t sound the alarm, figuring that with all the legitimately sad environmental problems out there jostling for attention, people need to get worked up over natural processes like fish need bicycles. I’d rather run a story about how birds have evolved to cope with cold weather, seeing as this isn’t the world’s first cold snap and will certainly not be its last.
But it’s easy to be crotchety and run your red pen through a story idea; it’s harder to come up with a good story angle yourself. Consider fox and coyote interactions. I’ve been doing just that for years, because it seems like where I live, foxes, specifically reds, are in a protracted funk. Growing up, I’d see foxes clamoring up manure piles, chasing each other during mating season, feeding with their puppies on wild strawberries that were growing outside their den. And I never remember seeing coyotes. Now it’s the exact opposite. I do still see some fox sign, but it’s probably 10 to 1 coyote to fox. The old fox dens sit empty, for the most part.
And like you, I’m sure, I talk to people about this sort of thing. I’ve talked to people in Maine and New York and all around the eastern half of America. And many of them say that they’ve been noticing the same thing on land they’re intimately familiar with.
So are coyotes, a non-native animal that only arrived in the northeast 50 or so years ago, displacing red foxes? This seems like a good question and a good hook for a story. The problem is I just don’t know how to tell it.

Red Foxes are taking up residence closer to humans to avoid Coyotes

I started my research into the matter by asking naturalists what they were seeing, and some of them confirmed that they’ve seen coyote-killed-foxes. Some foxes partially eaten, some just left for dead. I scanned the scientific literature and found corroboration in one research project done in Canada. One naturalist said that she suspects that where the two animals coexist, they may be using the same habitats at different times. Others have shared the observation that foxes are being pushed into towns and residential areas; that the coyotes run the woods now and the foxes are fleeing to the suburbs, choosing humans as the lesser of two evils. My sister-in-law had a litter of fox pups born under her back porch at work a few years back, which certainly seems to lend credence to this hypothesis.
I talked to fur trappers next, figuring these were the men and women on the front lines who’d know better than anybody. There is universal consensus among everyone I spoke to that there are more coyotes today and fewer foxes, and that to a certain degree there has to be a cause and effect, even if it’s just competition for resources. This contention is backed up by harvest data. But most went on to say that the question probably obscures the big picture. And that, really, it’s changes to the landscape and farming practices that are having the most profound effect on foxes.
A trapper based in western New York that I corresponded with online, shared this observation:
“Decades past, when crop fields were harvested for the season, they were either left alone or fall plowed and then disked in the spring. Fallow ground was left for grass and weeds, hedgerows and weedy fencelines were everywhere, and water tables were higher, resulting in more wetlands year-round. Now we have common farming practices to bushhog corn stubble and disc under corn, beans, and other row crops in the fall. That results in untold 1,000s of acres that are now just frozen-dirt deserts, which before would hold small rodent and bird populations all winter. Hedgerows and fence lines are gone, period. Everything is now one enormous field, with edges plowed to the max tight against roads, creeks, ditches, with nil margin between. Wetland areas have been tiled and drained with reckless abandon. The carrying capacity of land for wildlife is measured by the worst possible time in the food-source cycle. Look around you out there in farmlands other than working dairy is one big, dirt desert wasteland right now. Where literally tons of biomass (small rodents & birds) used to exist, few do now. Take away that much fox food, you take away the ability of the land to support the fox.”


Trying to Throw my Mind Around a Story image
Thanks for the article, Dave. As it happens, in the past year I have seen more fox sign and more foxes than I have in perhaps half a decade. That’s a short span, though, and if I had to hazard a guess at the ratio of coyote to fox sign in, say, the past 15 years, I’d venture 5 to1.
Sydney Lea | Jan 10, 2014
Trying to Throw my Mind Around a Story image
If you take a good look at the eastern coyote, it’s pretty obvious that the animal is more similar to the Algonquin wolf in habitat requirements and lifestyle than it is to the western coyote. While what we call a coyote may not be native to the northeast, neither are we of European heritage native to the northeast.
Here in northcentral PA gray foxes are doing just fine, it’s the red fox with its preference for brushy habitats and edge that’s declined. As Austin P. said, the habitat red fox prefer is gone, Gone, GONE! due to modern farming practices.
The coyote, because of its adaptability and intelligence, will be able to survive and prosper throughout the northeast.
woody meristem in Northcentral PA | Jan 10, 2014
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My experience has been the same here in rural northeastern Connecticut.  We, who used to routinely be treated to the sight of “Reddy Fox” running across the field, or playing with the kits near their den, now get excited at any sighting—they are few and far between.  Coyotes—all over the place! And too close for comfort.  Cayoodling within a few hundred feet of the house, late at night.  Boldly showing themselves as we drive by the field near their den.
Are foxes going the way of porcupines?  I can’t even remember the last time we saw one of those wonderful fellows!
Ginny in Brooklyn, CT | Jan 10, 2014
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I see alot of fox sign (tracks, scat) in Central Maine and on Cape Cod. Both of these areas have either coyote or coywolf populations. They utilize the same corridors, and hunt similiar prey, but I couldnt say that it’s just the coyotes that may be impacting the red fox populations.As others have commented, there are so many factors that come into play with intra-species interactions.
C. Diane Boretos in Central Maine | Jan 10, 2014
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We have had a very robust rabbit population this year. Normally I would see plenty of fox and their scat and hear them. This has not happened. I do hear the coyotes quite often.
Chris Hearn in Tiverton, RI | Jan 10, 2014
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I agree with the theory they are being driven closer to town. I’ve observed more fox tracks this winter in the fields close to our village and rarely see coyote tracks close to town. Head out into the rural areas and its just the opposite. My rural friends here the coyotes howling in the spring which I never hear but in the village I had a grey fox barking in my front yard
David Haas in Lancaster, NH | Jan 10, 2014
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Red and Grey Fox (West Virginia Dept. of Natural Resources)
Although coyotes and foxes share a common range throughout much of North America, there appears to be an inverse relationship between the densities of coyotes and that of foxes.  High densities of coyotes tend to limit the distribution of fox territories and their numbers. Biologists have noted the decline of foxes following the colonization of coyotes into an area. Foxes apparently avoid core home ranges of coyote to avoid contact with the stronger predator. The territory of the grey fox occupies more interior woodland and apparently encounters are less common than in the more open land territory of the red fox. Most studies have concluded that foxes are not eliminated but become less common when coyotes invade their territory.
Rick Meril in LA by way of NJ | Jan 10, 2014
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New York State Dept. of Conservation
Tree climbing is one of the most notable adaptations in the gray fox. Gray fox have been reported to den several yards above the ground. This is not only advantageous in escaping predators such as coyotes, it may also improve their ability to find food. By gripping the bole of the tree with their front paws, and as they push off with their hind feet, they will let go with their front and re-grip the bole of the tree higher up. Once they’re up in the crown they tend to jump from branch to branch. Descent is backwards or if the tree is leaning they will run down the trunk of the tree.
Due to their more aggressive behavior, Gray fox prefer to hunt thicker cover than the more timid red fox. The gray fox’s preference for thicker cover, aggressive behavior, and the ability to climb trees minimizes the effect that eastern coyotes have on their population. The red foxes preference for open terrain where they are more visible and farther away from cover allow coyotes to suppress red fox populations where coyotes are abundant.
Rick Meril in LA by way of NJ | Jan 10, 2014
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Observed Interactions Between Coyotes and Red Foxes
Alan B. Sargeant &  Stephen H. Allen
US Geological Survey
Coyotes (Canis latrans) are believed to influence the distribution and abundance of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) (Sargeant, 1982). Examples of inverse relations in abundance of the two species are numerous (Dekker, 1983; Goldman, 1930; Johnson and Sargeant, 1977; Linhart and Robinson, 1972; Sargeant, 1982; Schmidt, 1986). Populations of both species are composed primarily of territorial family groups. In allopatric populations, territories tend to be contiguous and nonoverlapping (Andelt, 1985; Sargeant, 1972). In sympatric populations, red fox territories straddle the periphery or are located largely outside of coyote territories (Major and Sherburne, 1987; Sargeant et al., 1987; Voigt and Earle, 1983). Avoidance of coyotes by red foxes is believed to be the principal cause of spatial separation (Sargeant et al., 1987).
The accounts we received showed that coyotes occasionally kill fox pups at dens but there is no evidence this is a major source of mortality for foxes living among coyotes. Dekker (1983) inferred that red foxes often den in the immediate vicinity of farms to seek refuge from coyotes but reported no instances of coyote-inflicted mortality on fox pups. Sargeant et al. (1987) also found that in sympatric populations red foxes den closer to occupied farms and roads than coyotes. During 1980-1984 we visited 48 fox-rearing dens on a 313-km² area in northwest North Dakota where coyotes were common; we found no evidence of coyote disturbance to the dens or of coyotes killing fox pups. The arrangement of the coyote and fox dens on that area indicated families of each species were separated spatially in the manner described by Major and Sherburne (1987), Sargeant et al. (1987), and Voigt and Earle (1983); most fox dens were near farms and roads.
Although red foxes have reason to fear coyotes, they frequently may be near coyotes without showing apparent concern, and coyotes encountering foxes may not respond aggressively. The observed communal feeding by a coyote and fox, and the reported instances of coyotes and foxes rearing pups near each other, reveal the high degree of interspecific tolerance that can occur. Nevertheless, it is advantageous for foxes to avoid encounters with coyotes because each encounter includes risk of injury or death. This mixture of coyote aggression and indifference toward red foxes may explain gradual changes in fox populations in the wake of changes in coyote populations (Sargeant, 1982) and the presence of some red foxes among coyotes for years (Sargeant et al., 1987).
Rick Meril in LA by way of NJ | Jan 10, 2014
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I think the perrenial headline is: “Everything Depends on Everything Else!” This may be boring from a “news” point of view, but to me as a forester and resource manager, it is endlessly fascinating to learn more about the real world interactions of animals (including the human kind), plants, weather, etc. NW does a great job at promoting this concept with just the right amount of sensationalism, because, in fact, it is a sensational concept all by itself. Speculation is ok, but keen and accurate observation makes an even better story. Thanks for providing the space for the stories.
andy Shultz in Augusta, Maine | Jan 10, 2014
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We’ve had a small but steady fox population in our little rural corner (mixed open and wooded habitat) in the 15 years we’ve lived here. Coyotes are known to be around, and intermittently heard at certain times a year, but rarely seen in our immediate area. In the winter, we prowl our perimeter to look for tracks, see who’s around to menace our cats. While we see fox prints regularly—one known to den at the other end of the road seems to make a great circle several times a week—we rarely see larger canine prints. Just last week, though, we noticed a set of those running a route behind our pond. We have only visually observed coyotes as singles, though when we hear them, it’s always a pack running a ridgeline or down by the river.
Carolyn in East Wallingford, VT | Jan 10, 2014
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I love both the coyote and fox. The coyotes for their midnight yapping, barking and noise making and the fox, because they are a beautiful sight to see, stunning puffed up red coats trotting across our fields or leaving their tiny “dog” tracks in the snow.
Now this is a naturalist talking obviously. A hunter would snicker at the coyote remark as many of them believe they are dispensable and responsible for the death of fawns, while I believe they do a good job of culling sick, diseased, and weak deer from the herds. While I don’t have access to a ratio count of coyote to fox it seems like we have equal numbers of both. Of course the resident foxes have always been plentiful thanks to a neighbor who has, at any time, 200-300 chickens, ducks, geese and guinea fowl running loose at his farm. The term “open refrigerator” comes to mind here. 
The habitat here is also prime for red fox.  Hedgerows, small wetlands, fields gone wild until they are cut once in August, and then allowed to grow until winter.
Penelope Harris in Vermont | Jan 10, 2014
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I have seen many more foxes this fall and winter than other years. This seems to run in cycles with the abundance of rabbits. The foxes seem healthy, no mange and very active.
Beth Fletcher in Chatham, Cape Cod, MA | Jan 11, 2014
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I’ve been blaming coyotes for a lack of both red and gray fox.  Granted we’re in a suburban area, but where I am directly has about thirty acres of fields that are only cut for hay, not tilled,and marsh that is shrubby with some trees. We also have a wooded nature preserve next to the fields.  A trailcam in an old barway shows coyotes prolifically, turkeys and a few deer - no fox.  It’s possible that mange killed them off, but it seems coyote keeps them from returning.
Carl Strand in Mystic, CT | Jan 11, 2014
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I see lots of fox tracks in the snow. My son has a wildlife camera which we installed by the compost pile. We saw fox every night. We also have coyote on our 50 acres, they seem to coexist.
Charles (Randy) Taplin in Warren, VT | Jan 11, 2014

 A Thesis

Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for

the Degree Master of Science in the

Graduate School of the Ohio State University


Alison N. Willingham, B.S.


The Ohio State University

Intraguild Competition with Coyotes

Coyote populations throughout North America are expanding, perhaps originally
due to the extirpation of wolves (Smith et al. 2003) and most recently due to increases in
agricultural land use (Patterson and Messier 2001). Agricultural fields may support
greater densities of prey species such as deer, rabbits and mice, as well as provide
abundant seasonal food in the form of crops.

Patterson and Messier (2001) found a
positive correlation between coyote and prey abundance, suggesting that these areas may
serve as high quality habitat for this behaviorally plastic carniserve as high quality habitat for this behaviorally plastic carnivore. In Illinois,
approximately 81% of the land is used for agricultural practices with 50% of that
consisting of row crops (Rosenblatt et al. 1999). This shift in land use may be providing
an abundant food source supporting increasing coyote populations. Most recently,
coyotes have moved into urban areas (Gompper 2002), likely in response to the diversity
and abundance of prey items and anthropogenic resources (Fedriani et al. 2001, Morey et
al. 2007).

A gradient of intraguild competition has been reported between coyotes and gray
foxes, as well as between coyotes and other species of fox. Some studies suggest that
gray foxes may be well equipped to coexist with coyotes, primarily due to their
omnivorous food habits, evasive tree-climbing behavior and seclusive nature (Sheldon
1949, Cypher 1993). Chamberlain and Leopold (2005) found that coyotes did not limit
the distribution of gray foxes, as several were found living entirely within coyote home
ranges; although foxes did avoid the core use areas of these territories. Gray foxes in
California were found to use space in a way that was more influenced by resource
distribution than by coyote distribution (Neale and Sacks 2001).

Other studies have documented negative relationships between coyotes and foxes
(Sargeant et al. 1987, Crooks and Soule 1999, Fedriani et al. 2000). In one study, 92% of
all gray fox mortalities were attributed to larger predators, with 67% of those mortalities
caused by coyotes (Farias et al. 2005). A kit fox (Vulpes macrotis) study determined that
coyote predation accounted for 75.8 ± 7.7% of mortality (Cypher and Spencer 1998)


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be surprised that coyotes DO limit red fox numbers to a degree(which can be a GOOD thing in reducing rabies epidemics started by overpopulated foxes), but the knee-jerk reaction in the East that coyotes are going to ELIMINATE red foxes, I feel, is exaggerated all out of proportion, and is forgetting(or doesn't even realize) that coyotes and red foxes have been coexisting out West for thousands of years! And red foxes living closer to humans BECAUSE of coyotes? Red foxes have ALWAYS lived close to human habitations whenever those humans don't persecute them! An excellent example is of red foxes living in even urban areas in England, where there are NO coyotes! I agree that the things mentioned that might help gray foxes survive coyote predation/competition have some merit, but remember, gray foxes also still regularly utilize open and edge areas, and live quite successfully alongside coyotes even in places in the Southwest where there are no large trees to climb above coyote level! So yeah, I'd take this "coyotes-will-eliminate-red-foxes" notion with a BIG grain of salt. Not to mention the reality that coyotes have BEEN in the East for many decades now, and whaddya know, we still have red foxes around!......L.B.

Rick Meril said... usual, pragmatic and logical commentary by you. Good to hear from you

Mark LaRoux said...

As seems to be consistent with reports in other parts of the country, here in north Alabama's hill country I see a lot of gray foxes on a fairly regular basis and coyotes only intermittently above 1200 feet. I've only seen 1 red fox in the last 3 years, and that was a roadkill on a lowland road (next to a goat/sheep farm).

Anonymous said...

Although this GREAT blog has moved well along, I thought I'd post another coupla thoughts on this particular subject. Mainly because I was off 5 days straight from work(and near no computers), and out rambling in the woods most of that time, and found a recently dug RED FOX den, in an area well populated by coyotes(coywolves??)! Rather coincidental, I thought! And I see Red Fox SIGN all the time, but rarely see the Red Foxes in person. I DO see Gray Foxes far more regularly, but my impression of this is that Gray Foxes are just not as alert and cautious of humans as Red Foxes are--especially in an area(like mine) where they are heavily hunted. I also see far more road-killed Gray Foxes than Reds, but ALWAYS HAVE, long before coyotes "invaded" this part of North Carolina. I virtually NEVER see bobcats, just their sign, but they are supposedly fairly common as well--they are just even MORE cautious and harder to surprise than foxes of either species! One thing I note regularly is fox poop, and Grays' and Reds' poop is quite distinctive. I actually have a harder time distinguishing between Gray Fox fecals and Raccoon fecals, they are so similar! Red Fox poo in comparison, is very black(usually), twisted, and very often deposited on some elevated object, like a rock, log, or even discarded human litter, like a beer can! Coyote poo, incidentally, is not only much larger, but very whitish or light greyish, and also twisted and full of hair and bones. Red Fox tracks are also quite distinctive from Gray Fox tracks IF you have a very clear set to look at. Really clear Gray Fox tracks are VERY catlike, except for tiny pinpricks showing the claws(not usually visible on any type of cat tracks)--Red Fox claws much more visible, and HAIRIER looking, if you have a very clear set to observe in fine dust, snow, or mud. Also, you can usually draw a straight line between a Red Fox's front and rear toes, the line not touching either. Based on this, I still REGULARLY see Red Fox sign, if not the foxes themselves, in an area well populated with "Eastern Coyotes"!....L. B.

Rick Meril said...

Good evening L.B. and glad that you were able to be a woodsman for the 5 day stretch that saw you off from work...........Good to know that apparently the sympatric red and gray foxes,Coyotes and Bobcats all seem to be finding a niche in your area woodlands.............."ADAPT AND OVERCOME the hallmark of all of these mesocarnivores

Anonymous said...

Yet another "coincidence" relating to this post--we had some snow and deep cold temps(for here) this week in N. C.--off work yesterday and went tracking, as I love to do in the snow--on my 8 acres I found(along with the inevitable deer and rabbit and squirrel) both Red AND Gray fox tracks, AND Coyote too! All in one small area--though I'm sure they probably utilize it at different times.....L.B.

Rick Meril said...

the animals figure out how to find a niche that keeps their population afloat to some degree even if at lowered levels due to intraspecific conflict amongst a suite of mesacarnivores like coyotes, foxes and bobcats