Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Fox and the Hare

While we still stand the risk of freezing rain and snow, it is indeed spring. As a result our patient numbers are slowly climbing from the 20 or less a month we admit in the winter, now to one or even several a day! The phones too, are getting busier and, as usual this time of year, a number of the calls we get are regarding the same animals, questions and/or situations. Last week we got a number of calls about raccoons getting into mischief. We attributed that to increased numbers of them looking for nesting sites for the season. This week it seems that all of the phone calls are about cottontail rabbit nests or red fox dens.
Cottontail rabbits have a relatively short gestation period and they also reproduce several times from spring through fall. Thankfully for the parents, they also have a very short rearing period as well; most infant cottontails are old enough to be weaned, eating solid food, and on their own by about 4 to 6 weeks of age.

If you find a nest of baby cottontails in your yard, the best thing to do is to leave them be and enjoy their brief time of growth for the next couple of weeks because they will soon be old enough to venture out of the nest and will be gone. If the nest has already been or is in danger of being disturbed this is not a hopeless situation. Is your dog trying to get into the nest when you let her out during the day? Then try putting a milk crate, laundry basket or “breathable” container over the area during the day. Mom only comes by the nest to feed the babies at dusk and again at dawn so you can take the cover in with you at night and bring it back out first thing in the morning. Some people have also had good luck putting up a little garden fence or other type of barricade that the mother rabbit can fit through or under to get to the nest, but that their pets cannot get into. In any situation where a baby cottontail is injured always contact a rehabilitator to get them the care they need as soon as possible.

This basket-full of baby bunnies may be cute, but it is neither humane nor legal to try to keep them as pets. They need very specialized care if they are to stand a chance of surviving until they are big enough to be on their own.

Red foxes, are natural, native animals in this part of Wisconsin. They are also far enough along in their breeding season where many have young big enough to start venturing out of the den for the first time. Because they have such a persona about them, what most of the people we speak to don’t know is that they are very common animals in urban and suburban neighborhoods. These habitats have taken the place of many of the marshes, woods, and native grasslands that used to be home to these animals. As a result they have had to adapt in order to survive. In the case of the fox (among other animals including white tailed deer, raccoons, and squirrels) the less rural environments also provide a lot more resources which has made the transition much easier. Other than the rodents who are feasting underneath your bird feeder at night, the pears and apples falling from your neighbors tree, and the occasional sip out of someone’s fresh pond or nice clean pool, these animals would really rather not be in such close proximity to humans. This means that even if they are living underneath your neighbor’s shed, as long as they are given their space and you (as well as your pets) remain in yours any conflicts are unlikely.

If a fox is in your neighborhood and you are still concerned these are some of the things to keep in mind: If you have bird feeders, fallen fruit, pet food, food storage or any other potential food source in or around your yard, consider cleaning it up, changing it’s location away from the immediate area, or removing it altogether for a period of time. Less food means less reason for the foxes to venture into your yard. For those of us with pets, it is our responsibility to look out for them. Knowing that there is a fox in the neighborhood (because in many cases we don’t know) doesn’t increase their risk of being attacked. This is because statistics show that most attacks or injuries to domestic animals are more likely to occur through interaction with other domesticated animals versus a wild animal. Also, making noise whenever you go out, using a squirt gun filled with water, or putting flags or streamers in the yard periodically can all help to make your territory seem odd and scary therefore a place that no mother would want her young to visit.

Foxes, Coyotes and other predators often get a bad rap. These innocent little pups want nothing more than a nice mouse maybe with a fruit or vegetable on the side, a safe place to sleep and some occasional sunshine to bask in just like your family cat.
  If you have further questions always contact your nearest rehabilitator first. Even if someone from a local pet supply store is willing to sell you something to feed that cute baby bunny, it doesn't mean that you should. And even though your neighbor's father who grew up on a farm in Illinois tells you that every fox he saw growing up was rabid, it doesn't mean that these ones are.

Hope that helps, until next time...

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