Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Swift Fox - A Prairie Success Story
Earlier this week I received a report of a Swift Fox den and I was able to follow up on it last night. I found two adults and a litter of at least 3 kits at the den entrance. I was able to sit and watch the family for a while and as I watched one of the adults headed off across the prairie and disappeared into a small drainage. The kits were pretty curious in me but finally they spooked at something and bailed into the den. Shorty after that, the adults I watched head across the prairie trotted across the road in front of me with a Richardson's Ground Squirrel in it's mouth. It must have only been about 20 minutes from the time the adult disappeared until it returned with dinner. The light was not very good with a storm moving in and I had to cut my visit short when the wind came up and the lightening started. I hope to get back there soon.
It is pretty amazing that I was able to watch these animals at all. Swift Fox were extirpated from the northern Great Plains by about 1930, probably due to trapping, loss of habitat, and poisoning from effort to eradicate wolves and coyotes.
The foxes I observed yesterday are the wild born progeny of a very successful reintroduction effort started just north of me in southern Saskatchewan and Alberta nearly 30 years ago by a diverse group of biologists and landowners interested in returning this little fox to the prairie.
The reintroduced foxes prospered in the remaining grasslands and expanded rapidly south into the United States. The most recent population estimate derived from a 2006 census across Alberta, Montana, and Saskatchewan suggests there are about 515 foxes in Montana and another 647 in Canada. The number of foxes in Montana was probably an underestimate since the survey effort was centered on the border and there were probably a number of undocumented foxes living further south of the area that was surveyed. That number has certainly grown since the survey as well and they are becoming observed more often in the area.
This was my first good observation of a Swift Fox ever. I have watched them dart across the road in Wyoming while doing Black-footed Ferret surveys, found road kills just north of Glasgow, and observed one individual on a number of occasions at a den alongside a road but he always disappeared before I got very close. It was very special to finally be able to watch this pair and their kits so close - something I have been looking forward to for years.