Fox are nothing if not persistent

A red fox has been hanging around the farm since mid-March, which is a long time for a predator that tends to stay on the move, usually roaming a home territory of two to three square miles. It’s been our experience that a fox will stay for a few days, then move on. I suspect the reason she’s still here is that she has young stashed in a den somewhere, which means she has six to eight extra mouths to feed.

Red fox are very common in North America. There are 47 different sub-species of red fox globally, and their color can vary widely, but no matter the color, members of this species always have the signature white tip on their tail. The one we’re seeing now has a lot more gray than the one pictured below (courtesy of the Fish and Wildlife Service). Their bushy tail helps with balance and keeping them warm.

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Photo courtesy Ronald Laubenstein, U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

I got a good look at our visitor one day while watching her play with a vole or a mouse in our orchard. She’s a beautiful, healthy-looking specimen. I took a shot at her with a pistol, aiming over her head, to scare her off, but it didn’t scare her enough to keep her away. She is still coming back throughout the day, desperately hoping that the chickens have somehow escaped from their run and she can choose the fattest one to take home to her kits!

She will eventually exhaust the food supply here, and her offspring will be old enough to move on. When that day comes, we can let the chickens out again to free range — at least until the next predator comes along!

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Our shyest visitor

Today I spotted a woodpecker that we often hear around the farm, but seldom see. We have both Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, as well as Red-bellied Woodpeckers, that visit our suet feeders in winter, but the most elusive member of the woodpecker family prefers to stay concealed in the woods. The Pileated Woodpecker is so shy that if you do happen to catch a glimpse of it as it scales the tree trunks looking for insects, it will quickly disappear from sight by moving to the opposite side of the tree. I was lucky and got a couple of seconds to snap this picture (believe me, I have taken many pictures where all I got was a tree trunk or a shot of wings as it flew away!)

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According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Pileated Woodpecker is one of the biggest, most striking forest birds on the continent. Look (and listen) for this crow-sized bird whacking at dead trees and fallen logs in search of their main prey, carpenter ants. Their excavations leave unique rectangular holes in the wood, which provide crucial shelter to many other species including swifts, owls, ducks, bats, and pine martens.

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The Pileated’s primary food is ants, supplemented by woodboring beetle larvae, termites, and other insects such as flies, spruce budworm, caterpillars, cockroaches, and grasshoppers. They also eat wild fruits and nuts, including greenbrier, hackberry, sassafrass, blackberries, sumac berries, poison ivy, holly, dogwood, persimmon, and elderberry. In some diet studies, ants made up 40 percent of the pileated diet, and up to 97 percent in some individuals.

If you have dead or dying trees on your property, consider leaving them alone as they may attract Pileated Woodpeckers (as well as other woodpeckers, nuthatches, and other insect-loving birds) to forage, roost, or even nest in them. We have a lot of dead standing hemlocks next to the creek that were attacked by an invasive hemlock-eating pest that came here from Japan. The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid kills hemlocks by sucking the nutrients from the tree, killing it in as little as 3 to 5 years.

Pileateds are quite vocal, typically making a high, clear, series of piping calls lasting several seconds. The loud call is sometimes described as sounding like a far-carrying laugh. What else would you expect from this flamboyant, exotic-looking bird!