Monday, January 19, 2009

Red foxes engaged in mating behavior

I haven't posted for just over a week as I was driving home from Texas then, because I stayed right up to the last day I could, had lots of meetings and other tasks facing me. I still have a number of Texas photos I want to post but I had to post about a very neat opportunity I was afforded today. I was doing a little birding on the grounds of the Holy Cross Abbey in my hometown, Canon City, CO. These grounds have always been open to the public and since there are hundreds of diverse species of trees, plus open space, it is a good birding location.

I was walking with my dogs in an area with buildings when I spotted a Red fox several hundred yards away, then a second fox following the first fox. They both spotted my dog and stopped, so I called my smaller dog, Chase, to me and had him stay still (my old dog was out of their view and he moves slow due to his age so I didn't think he would disturb them). As I watched the first fox continue walking across the field, it appeared that this might be a female in heat as she would sit or lay down when the other fox approached (this is a behavior I have observed in dogs before) so I returned to my nearby car (put the dogs in so they wouldn't disturb the foxes) so I could watch them in my spotting scope--and what a wonderful experience that was. I have had hundreds of sightings of foxes but never during their mating behavior, a sight I believe rarely seen.

Please be aware I am going to describe mating behavior.

A third fox came into the scene, then the fox following the first fox began chasing the third fox off. There was a lot of fox vocalizations that sounded like yipping. Several minutes after the third fox left, I observed the apparent male fox mount the other fox and engage in thrusting behavior which lasted about 5 seconds. He stopped and they both lay in the grass for a few minutes. Then she got up, he followed and re-engaged in mounting her, thrusting for about 5 seconds, for 4 more times. This may have occurred another time that I didn't observe as at one point they both were disturbed by a lady and her off-leash dog that was running a hundred yards or so near them. I stopped watching the foxes to watch the lady and her dog until they fortunately left the area.

I wondered if these short periods of thrusting were sufficient for this species as mating in dogs, another canid species, includes a "copulatory tie". During the mating the sex organs of the male and female are linked together and I now read that this could be for up to an hour. Indeed, the male subsequently mounted the female fox and clearly became linked to her. The male turns to leave, which he cannot, and then they are facing away from each other though connected.

As occurs with dogs, these foxes appeared to become bored and/or uncomfortable and one or the other would try to walk away, pulling the other with it. I manually counted the time and they were tied together for about 11.5 minutes (give or take a minute for counting errors). This is a long time for them to stand there. Towards the latter part of their time connected, they snapped at each other.

When they were finally able to separate, each lay in the grass. After resting a few minutes, the female got up and walked off with the male following her. It was about 45 minutes from the time I first spotted them until they trotted out of view. The photo shows the foxes in the copulatory tie. They were about 500 feet away so I had to enlarge the pic a lot. SeEtta