On June 24, the trustees of River Forest put on their agenda the topic, “Wildlife and Deer.” Most of the conversation centered around what we all observe — that deer and other wild animals have been driven from the forest preserves by abundant rainfall. Over the past two years, my wife and I have observed regular visits from deer in our yard and along our street.
However, we were not prepared when a family of foxes burrowed under our gazebo in early May and established their den in our backyard. Our first sighting was of the male fox, still wearing its red winter coat, darting among shrubbery and disappearing beneath our backyard gazebo. He re-emerged with the vixen (adult female) and they took up lookout stations in our yard. Then, one by one, five kits (juvenile foxes) appeared. They were adorable, romping and wrestling like pint-sized puppies. They were probably born in the forest preserves, but the rains had driven them onto the village streets.
It was fascinating watching the parents come and go from the den and the kits playing each dawn and dusk. It was not so fascinating that they trampled flora and left behind scat, carrion, and a distinct odor. And our neighbors were understandably concerned with wild animals living in such close proximity. Sometimes the neighborhood cats and the adult foxes squared off. They engaged in screaming matches, hissing and wailing at each other until one or the other backed off from some contested food.
Most fox families utilize multiple dens and move the kits from one to another for safety reasons. Twice, when they were in another den, I set about closing up the entrances they had dug beneath our gazebo. Twice they returned and dug new tunnels beneath our gazebo.
The vixen took to standing on our garage roof. She could look for food and act as a lookout from up there. As the kits grew, they became bolder and their playground expanded to our neighbors’ backyards. The parents would hunt, mostly at night, bringing back rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, and birds. Jeff Nelson, a wildlife biologist and photographer, explained that there were not many fox sightings in Chicagoland because there are many coyotes and coyotes view foxes as prey.
The fox family ultimately left our backyard after about a month. They are still in the area as we hear of fox sightings from time to time. The vixen is teaching the kits to survive. We hope the forest preserves dry up so many of these wild animals can return to a more natural pattern of life. The foxes are magnificent, but their struggle to survive does affect a suburban neighborhood.
Tom Connolly is a resident of River Forest.