RED ALERT! Spotted by Darrow Montgomery at Hains Point Thursday! Vulpes vulpes at the District's extremis! That's right, I'm talking about foxes! Not the kind that make you look over your sunglasses like Baby Eddie Van Halen in the "Hot for Teacher" video (appendix 1, below), the kind that have bushy tails, used to get hunted in Chevy Chase, eat squirrels, and often star as villains in Beatrix Potter books! RED FOXES! IN HAINS POINT!
"They're more common than you might think," says John Hadidian, director of urban wildlife programs at the Humane Society of the United States. When he worked for the National Park Service 15 years ago, Hadidian says, he'd occasionally get phone calls from reporters all...worked up because they'd seen foxes in D.C.
"They can live in a lot of different places," Hadidian says. "In London, they live under people's sheds. People like them."
Indeed, the U.K. has a thriving urban fox program, as evidenced by this page from the Trafford council, which in addition to a nice history of fox life in British cities, gives reasons why an American-style response to garden pests won't be undertaken in the North of England anytime soon: "Shooting is obviously not acceptable in urban areas, nor is snaring, and so only live trapping is left." (Shooting not acceptable in urban areas! You're so cute, England.)
Foxes in the District tend to stay in wooded areas, like Rock Creek Park, Hadidian says. But golf courses have their advantages, fox-wise, as well. "They're not changing all the time," he says, "and human presence is kind of limited, too." Also: "They have great sightlines."
You mean for PREY? "They're not just carnivores," says Hadidian, who seems determined to let the air out of the sensationalism I'm trying to pump up here. "Squirrels are a good part of their diet," he says, but they also eat vegetation.
This may be a fox print. It could also be a dog's. "Interesting that it looks like a cat track is next to them," says Hadidian in an e-mail.
How about Canada geese? "They could," Hadidian says, "but the thing people don't realize about foxes is even a big adult male will weigh about 15 pounds." A full-size Canada goose will weigh that much or more. (Though: Wouldn't it be Internet gold if they fought?) Foxes could go after goslings or goose eggs, Hadidian allows when pressed on the subject.
OK, so the geese are probably safe. But what about people? Surely someone blasting through Hains Point on a bike at 30 mph could fall and get eaten?
Attacks on humans are "extremely rare," Hadidian says. "They almost always involve an animal that is sick or compromised." Or fed by a human. Do not feed foxes. They might bite you.
Don't listen to overblown media reports, either. "This is mating season," Hadidian says. "So you're gonna see and hear about fox activity."
Photographs by Darrow Montgomery (except VH screengrab, which is by me)