ALASKA RED FOX
THE KENAI RED FOX of Alaska is the largest and most brilliantly colored of American foxes. Its large bushy tail with the conspicuous white tip is one of the outstanding field characters. Just as we have redheads, blondes, and brunettes in a human family, we sometimes find red, cross, silver, and black foxes in the same litter.
Red foxes are fairly numerous in Mount McKinley National Park, where squirrels, rabbits, and mice occur in sufficient numbers to support a large population. The fox population varies considerably over a period of years. Since these animals are not hunted in the park, they are frequently seen in broad daylight, often at midday. Thus, on the morning of June 1, 1926, as I stood motionless, a large male fox came trotting down the trail to within 50 yards of me, apparently as much at home as a dog in its own back yard.
In Mount McKinley National Park, I found that the breeding dens of this species usually were dug in sandy knolls with sunny south-facing exposures. At each den there was a series of about half a dozen large burrows, from 8 to 10 inches in diameter, connected with each other underground. It was common to see a fox pup disappear down one burrow and suddenly reappear at the entrance to another, as much as 20 feet from the place he disappeared.
On July 8, 1932, a companion and I found the den of a red fox on a south-facing bank below the Toklat River Bridge. There were six nearly half-grown foxes in this litterfour red, one brown, and one cross. These young foxes were so inquisitive that, when we climbed up and sat down 100 feet to one side of and above the den, they soon came cautiously out of the den. One pup stood in the open looking about, another stood with his nose and tail raised sniffing the air trying to scent us, while the third moved about following the trail of his brother and sister through the sense of smell.
The red foxes at Mount McKinley catch many mice, ground squirrels, and some ptarmigan. However, the foxes have to be constantly on the alert themselves to avoid being captured by a golden eagle. For instance, at 6 o'clock one evening in July 1932, while returning home, I found a red fox lying stretched out in the short grass on the tundra and I stopped to investigate, thinking it might be sick or crippled. At first I could not understand its tameness but I was soon enlightened when I saw a golden eagle swoop down upon it. About 50 yards from this fox, I discovered a large male cross fox hiding. Upon my approach, he ran down the hill, but had only covered about 100 yards when the eagle swooped down suddenly and attempted to grasp him in its talons. Just as the eagle was on the point of striking, the fox fluffed out its tail and threw it straight up into the eagle's face as a sort of decoy. The eagle grasped the fox's tail but pulled out only hair. The eagle then arose swiftly in an endeavor to gain altitude and to strike again at the fox. The second time the eagle descended the fox escaped by making a quick jump to one side just at the moment the eagle struck. Before the eagle was able to strike a third time the fox gained the shelter of a rocky cliff and crawled hurriedly into a narrow crack. There we found him hiding, his eyes glowing like two coals of green fire. Many persons claim that animals have no intelligence or memory. In this instance, I believe that the fox knew where the crack and safety lay and that his knowledge was of survival value. The fox that failed to remember did not live to reproduce and carry on the race.
Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010