Darrin Fulghum sees a lot of neat wildlife during the scores of hours he spends archery deer hunting.
But he wasn’t in a tree stand, or even far out in the country, last Sunday when he had a long look at an animal many Kansans have never seen.
“We were just cruising there along McLean, near Lawrence-Dumont (Stadium), when there was a (red) fox, right there,” Fulghum said. “We watched him from probably 10 or 15 minutes and it couldn’t have cared less. The last we saw it, it crossed Douglas headed north up an alley.”
The fox is not the only one of its kind in Wichita.
“We get a lot of fox calls, and we estimate there are a dozen dens around Wichita every year, and that may be conservative,” said Charles Cope, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism wildlife biologist for the Wichita area. “I saw one at 29th and Broadway, at rush hour, walking the railroad tracks not a bit afraid of anything.”
Cope said the population appears to be increasing. Last year his office received 76 calls pertaining to red foxes compared with 10 in 2009.
Red foxes thrive in towns because their main predator seldom lurks close to where humans live.
Matt Peek, Wildlife and Parks furbearer biologist, said most of Kansas’ red fox populations are in urban and suburban settings.
“Coyotes will kill them if they get the chance. The red fox population has declined substantially across much of the eastern U.S. where coyotes have moved in,” Peek said. “It’s a territorial deal, that the coyotes don’t want another canine in their territory. They kill them and leave them lay, for the most part.”
Cope said foxes usually find living pretty easy once they come to town.
“Their habitat is food, water and shelter and there’s usually plenty around,” he said. “There’s all kinds of culverts and sheds they can den under, and wood piles. They’re kind of a generalist when it comes to eating. They’ll eat insects, rabbits, seeds … they’ll hang around bird feeders and eat the seeds. I think a large part of their diet is dog and cat food people leave out for their pets.”
Peek said red foxes are largely nocturnal, so many people don’t know they’re living in their neighborhood.
Most major cities of the U.S., Europe and northern Asia have fox populations.
Peek said Kansas is home to two other species of foxes, swift and gray. Swifts are smaller foxes of the wide-open prairies of about the western one-fourth of Kansas.
Gray foxes are primarily known to live on the edges of timbered areas, like in eastern Kansas, though Peek said he’s had reliable reports of grays in southwest Kansas, too. As well as heading to dens, gray foxes have the ability to climb trees to escape predators.
Though he gets calls from concerned pet owners, Cope said he doesn’t think Wichita’s red fox population puts many dogs or cats in danger.
“A fox might eat a kitten, but I can’t see it messing with something like a tomcat,” Cope said. “They’re really not that big.”
Though their fluffy fur makes them look larger, most foxes weigh 8 to 18 pounds. Imagine a miniature dachshund with really long hair, and much longer legs.
As well as stealing pet and bird food and raiding gardens, red foxes sometimes make nuisances of themselves by making dens, and raising an average litter of four kits, under backyard garden sheds. Some people object to the noise and smell that can bring.
Cope said probably the most complaints he’s had about a fox den was because people were enjoying them too much.
“Two years ago we were getting calls about a den at 34th and Ridge Road. They were really visible,” Cope said. “People were complaining about people stopping traffic to look at the foxes; a lot of people were taking pictures. There wasn’t anything we could do; we can’t make people stop looking at wildlife.”