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What does the fox say?

The first time hubby and I heard a fox calling out in the night years ago, we thought a woman was screaming in terror. After the initial shock, we soon realized the repeated cries were too uniform, so we didn’t call 911 to ask the police to search Ormstown for someone in distress. Years later, we heard the disconcerting sound again while chaperoning a youth group in the Laurentians: an eerie screech that startled the campers into a rare moment of quiet as they listened nervously in the darkness.

Like other canids, red foxes bark, yip, whine, and howl. When two males fight, the staccato noise they make is called “gekkering.” The blood-curdling sound that startled us in the night is known as the “vixen’s scream,” a mating call that travels long distances to attract suitors – though it can also be used by males, and sometimes by females for other reasons.

According to Canadian Geo-graphic, “Red foxes are one of Canada’s most widespread mammals, found in all provinces and territories. They are comfortable in many habitats, including forests, grasslands, mountains and even deserts. You’ll also find them around farms, suburbs, cities, and towns.” Their wide distribution is attributed to their adaptability; but still, I find myself wondering: if the fox could speak “human,” would it ask us to respect wildlife corridors, to maintain green spaces along our rivers and between neighbours? Surely, this wild creature would prefer to hunt rabbits, minks, and other small animals on untamed stretches of land, and avoid the wrath of people protecting their poultry or the risk of being hit by a car.


A red fox runs along the ice of a river, with snow, trees and hill in the background.
A fox living along the Ormstown end of the Outardes River appears in a rare bit of daylight trail camera footage The red fox is primarily crepuscular active in the twilight of dusk and dawn or nocturnal in areas with much human interference At least two foxes patrol the northeast stretch of the Outardes setting off trail cameras throughout the night as they pace up and down the river on the hunt for food PHOTO Lorelei Muller


But our wild spaces are shrinking and are increasingly separated by human sprawl. Roads, property developments, and other human impacts on the landscape mean local wildlife is becoming confined in smaller and smaller natural spaces, presenting greater challenges in their hunts for food and mates. That’s why groups like Ambioterra are so important: their projects “aim to protect natural environments and species at risk;” and according to their website, “Forest cover is becoming increasingly fragmented. Less than 24 per cent of the Montérégie-Ouest territory is under forest cover, while the critical threshold is 30 per cent! The latter can therefore no longer fulfill its ecological functions adequately (maintaining biodiversity and water quality).”

The family of foxes living under Helen Smith’s barn several years ago didn’t seem inclined to speak with the CVR students that passed them every weekday. I don’t think the foxes living somewhere along the Outardes River, likely in a den under a large tree, will talk to me either. But still, I fancy that they might just say, “Ringdingding-dinger-ringerding-ding, please don’t pave over everything.” I apologize if that decade-old pop tune is now stuck in your head again, but I also hope it’s accompanied by thoughts about how you can help preserve wild spaces around us.

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