Love is in the air

Swift fox (Photo by Clio Smeeton)

Swift fox (Photo by Clio Smeeton)

April 29, 2015 | by Clio Smeeton

Now is the time of year when, as the old song goes, "A young man's fancy lightly turns to love." When it comes to swift foxes, their hearts definitely do. The female swift fox, or vixen, holds court in her den while her suitors, dog foxes, come and visit her. Depending on the weather it can take most of February and sometimes all of March as she picks and chooses among the dogfoxes before either choosing her mate or renewing her vows with her old mate.

The vixen has to make a wise choice in mate selection because after her cubs are born she will stay below ground for 14 days while her mate does all the hunting. If she doesn't choose a good provider, her cubs (and probably she herself) will not survive.

Most swift fox pairs are monogamous; they mate for life. This means that the courtship period of February and March is really important time of year for their survival and successful reproduction.

Unlike domestic dogs, a female swift fox will not accept just any old male; it has to be the right one for her. If he doesn’t come visiting, she will live a celibate life until he does show up. Of course, occasionally there will be a dog fox able to please two vixens, but for the future of two litters of cubs this seldom works out well unless there is an abnormally rich harvest of mice, microtines, voles and ground squirrels close to both natal den sites.

Occasionally, we have observed this. An extremely persuasive male may succeed in moving both pairs of vixens and cubs in together.

Swift foxes are very vocal. At this time of year they are almost at their most vocal. Swift foxes sound like birds, so many researchers don’t associate the sounds they hear in the wild, if they are lucky enough to do so, with swift foxes. The foxes have a courting bark that sounds very like a pheasant’s alarm call, a buzzing hum that they make to each other while flattening their ears and wagging their tails and a slightly louder twittering they make once their buzzing conversation has finished.

The only time of the year the swift foxes are even more vocal than they are now is when they have cubs. We should have more news on this year's courtship rituals soon!

Clio Smeeton (Photo courtesy of Clio Smeeton)

About the Author

Clio Smeeton is president of the Cochrane Ecological Institute.

Read more about Clio Smeeton.

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