The baby foxes—or “kits,” as they are called—above and on our cover made a Mt. Lebanon park their home this spring. Foxes aren’t new to Mt. Lebanon, but you probably haven’t seen them. They are skittish around people and prefer to be out at night.
Biologist Chris Phillips, Altadena Drive, pointed us in the direction of the Guide to Mammals of Pennsylvania for the background on these babies.
Red foxes are about the size of a small dog and usually weigh between 7.1 to 11.5 pounds. They live from 3 to 5 years in the wild, if they can escape doom from their two main predators—humans and dogs. Large hawks and owls may also feast on them.
Their diet consists of small mammals (moles, voles, mice, shrews, rats and squirrels), fruit, eggs, insects and grass. Keep an eye on the fowl, though, because the “fox in the henhouse” phrase is true; they do eat small chickens as well as turtles.
Red foxes pair for life (aww!) and mate in winter. Kits are born in late March to early April and stay in the den with their parents until they can hunt on their own in the fall.
Mt. Lebanon also is home to some gray foxes, which, because their habitats are disappearing, have begun to share their homes with red foxes, a living arrangement that’s rare, says Animal Control Officer Roy Hayward. But foxes are adaptable to their environments and will do what they need to do to survive.
“Mother Nature is doing a better job of changing than we are,” Hayward says.
Of course, most residents have been up close and personal with Mt. Lebanon’s squirrels, deer, rabbits, groundhogs and raccoons, but some people are surprised to learn we have some of the more wild species here, too, including coyotes, raptors and the occasional, transient black bear.
While you shouldn’t run into the woods covered in peanut butter and donuts, be not afraid. “These animals are not going to come after you or take babies out of strollers,” says Hayward, who is a former conservation officer with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. “Wildlife wants to get away from you more than anything else.”
Your pets are a different story, however.
At the top of our wild food chain are coyotes, who have been here for decades, says Deputy Police Chief Aaron Lauth.
Coyotes are omnivores, and Hayward says they will eat “anything that doesn’t eat them,” from foxes and turkeys to fawns. “They just open it right up like a beer can.” They will eat raccoons and groundhogs, eggs, ducks, snakes and any fur creature, including feral and pet cats and small dogs. And they are hungry: They can eat a full-size, adult rabbit a day.
Hawks love mammals too, including small pets. If you see one lurking in your big oak tree, you may want to take your puppies and kittens inside. Hayward describes how a hawk kills its prey, and it’s right out of a Wes Craven film— not something you want to see, and too awful for us to describe, in case you’re reading while you’re eating breakfast.
Great horned owls, while no risk to humans, are birds of prey and big time carnivores. But you should thank them for at least one thing: they are the largest predator of skunks and aren’t the least bit repelled by the stink, Hayward says
The black bears in our area that you have heard about in the news are solitary and always on the move, on their way to somewhere else. They also are omnivores who will eat anything from berries to flowers or fragrant road kill. If you ever come upon bear cubs, however, it’s a good idea to beat it out of there quickly. They don’t call her “Mama Bear” for nothing, and she will protect her babies with a vengeance.
So if we haven’t made our point from all those menus, we’ll say it now: although you should not worry about the safety of your family, you should supervise your pets at all times. If you are letting them out at night, it’s a good idea to turn on the porch light, rattle the door handle a bit and make yourself visible to scare away any predator that might be lurking on your porch or in your yard.
If you accidentally encounter a wild animal, acting like a complete weirdo will usually get rid of them. Flap your arms; make loud screeches and noises, and that will likely send them packing, Hayward says. Avoid cornering them—that is the one mistake that could get you in trouble.
If you see nocturnal animals during the day or if they appear to be sick or are acting oddly, call 911, and animal control will investigate.
One last tip from Hayward: if you can no longer care for your pet, please do not release it into the wild. From what you have just read, you can see that a domestic animal may not survive the night with these creatures. Instead, take an unwanted pet to a shelter so it has a chance to find a home.
One wild animal rumored to be in our midst is just an urban legend—Hayward says he has seen no evidence of wildcats, bobcats, cougars or any other mountain lion-type beast. The residents who thought they saw a wildcat most likely saw a plain old, “hangry” feral cat having a bad day, not a vicious predator.