Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Fox, the Vole and the Garden


Red fox taking a snooze in the pine needles

What do foxes, voles and gardens have to do with each other? Well, foxes are great predators, and voles, moles, and mice love to eat plants, roots, and bulbs, so what if we let the foxes eat the the voles to help us in the gardens? I am lucky enough to live in an area that has lots of wildlife, including foxes, coyotes, deer, black bear, mountain lions and various small critters. We also have rabbits, mice, voles, and squirrels, none of which are welcome in my gardens.


This one is sleeping next to the window well - they are very much at home in our area, sometimes too much so. They drink out of the dog's water dish, and come up on the deck.

Voles love to eat the roots, plant stems and bulbs. They also love to reproduce, and are very prolific once they make their home in your yard. A single set of voles can create between 100 to 2000 voles per half-acre. That's an astounding number, and you wouldn't want to have it happen to you. I have seen client's yards that are covered with vole holes, vole runs, and ruined plants. Not a pleasant sight.

The foxes we have in our area are Red foxes or Vulpes vulpes, which live in most of North America, and are native to some of it, including the Rocky Mountains that I call home. Foxes are not the same as coyotes, and in general only prey on small animals such as mice, voles, moles, rabbits and such. They are omnivorous, and depending on their location feed mostly on insects, worms, mollusks, and crayfish. They are territorial in nature, and will mark their area frequently. Each year, there are new sets of baby foxes (kits) on our block. They come into the yard, and also have hunting lessons at night, when you can hear them calling to their mother, and her calls back to them. Sometimes they sound like people screaming, it is very eerie.


video
Short video of fox "kits" in the backyard, taken from second story window.

Creating a habitat in which the foxes are welcome is easy once you make the commitment to do so. Foxes need places to make dens and create hiding places, so don't clear cut your shrubbery or low thickets. Eliminate pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals that could harm the foxes. Don't poison the mice, moles or voles, since the foxes will ingest the poison. I have caught voles in mousetraps, and then thrown the dead vole on the ground. Usually it is picked up by the fox within an hour or so. Foxes like to chase prey, so let them do their job. Unfortunately for those of you who have domesticated rabbits and chicken, they will chase and kill those also.


Leaving understory in part of your yard is a great way to attract many types of birds and wildlife, including foxes.

Finally, please don't feed foxes hard boiled eggs, dog food, or anything else to try to "attract" them. They have survived for 1ooo's of years using their natural predator instincts, and will frequent your yard and garden if you provide them the correct natural habitat.

9 comments:

  1. You are lucky to have foxes to chase down your voles. I can't stand voles. They are ravenous! I once sat and watched a bobcat from my car, hunt and eat a vole. I was ecstatic and nearly bursting with joy. Great post and video about foxes, Kathy!

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  2. Letting nature take its natural course is always the best way... one thing takes care of the next. You've given some great practical tips for allowing that to happen in the home landscape.

    I sure wish something ate armadillos... they are wreaking havoc in my veggie garden right now.

    Thanks so much for visiting Hoe & Shovel... we do live in very opposite climates but I sure love to come ski in your beautiful state. :-)
    Meems @ Hoe and Shovel

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  3. What a beautiful animal and great tips on how to attract them. We do not have red foxes in the Arizona desert, but I remember seeing a lot of them when we visited Ireland.

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  4. I love the photos of the foxes and the video. They are special animals that I am very fond of. I bet their cries to each other in the night are eerie, until you realize it is the foxes. Kudos to you for making a place they can come.

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  5. I love foxes. I nominated Fox for my recent Favorite Backyard Critters Contest - he didn't win :-( My kids thought a fox would be REALLY cool to have in your backyard. Lucky you!

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  6. What beautiful creatures. I am sure they would not be attracted to a village lot - but maybe a bird of prey would eat any voles looking to move in? Sometimes we can hear coyotes down the river. But my favorite sound is the call of the loons.

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  7. We see foxes on occasion in the fields and at woods edge. I've heard the kits at a distance. I am happy for wild creatures to keep their distance, since they don't go for rabies shots nor worming.

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  8. Rosey, I would think you have foxes around your area, you just might not see them since they hunt a lot at night.

    Meems, armadillos are no where to be found in this part of the country, so I don't know what takes care of them.

    azplantlady, you probably don't have many voles where you live, do you? They are not found very often in desert areas.

    Mary and Allison, I do love the foxes. Many people think that they are sly, sneaky, and dangerous, but I have never seen one here act that way. Coyotes on the other hand make me nervous when they come into the yard or walk down the street.

    Voilet, There are many predators that eat voles, including snakes, hawks, falcons, eagles, weasels, bobcats (as Rosey has seen), and coyotes.

    NellJean, you make a very good point about rabies in wild animals. Statistics show that the threat is real in foxes, but in the USA it it much less so than raccoons, skunks, and bats. Keeping your pets vaccinated so that they don't spread rabies helps also, especially in cases like mine where wildlife often drinks from the dog water.

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  9. Ooh, I'm so glad I don't have voles. Squirrels are bad enough. When we lived in Austin we started to see foxes in the neighborhood after raising chickens became popular. You're right about how eerie they can sound at night. The first time I heard them I had to do an internet search immediately to verify that's what I was hearing! I haven't seen a fox since we moved here. I should research how common they are around these parts. Nice post!

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