A backyard trampoline was a summertime hit for a family of red foxes. Michelle Bobechko became a daily host to a group of baby red foxes, or kits, in her backyard in Vaughan, Ontario. The kits pounced and play-fought on her trampoline under the watchful eye of an adult fox. The experience showcased how even in busy urban neighbourhoods, wildlife can thrive alongside humans.
Michelle says she first spotted the red fox family in the spring of 2021. Three adult made a den under a neighbour’s front porch and produced five kits. During this time, a coyote was seen monitoring the den. Michelle believes that two of the red fox kits were taken by the coyote.
In her own backyard, Michelle had placed a ramp for easy access into her trampoline. This turned out to be quite the draw for the fox family.
“Every morning between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. two to four foxes would visit our garden and play in the yard or on the trampoline,” Michelle says in an email to Cottage Life.
The kits were accompanied by a smaller fox who would stand watch while the kits jumped. Michelle guessed that this was the mother, adding that “she would be seen grooming them occasionally and they would in return lick her mouth as she stood watch.”
The leaps and bounds on the trampoline appear to be a re-enactment of a hunting behaviour called mousing, says Dennis Voigt, a wildlife researcher now retired from the Ministry of Natural Resources.
When mousing, a fox will first use their sharp senses to detect small prey like a mouse or vole hidden under snow or in high grass. They then launch themselves into the air for a pounce.
“They elevate at 45 degrees and come down on the front feet,” says Voigt. The goal is to step on their prey, trapping it beneath their front paws.
Voigt says that he has seen young foxes practicing mousing with grasshoppers. He adds that the tennis balls on the trampoline might have served as the ‘prey’ during the play mousing.
Play behaviour allows kits to practice their hunting skills. Voigt compares the behaviour to young puppies at play. “They do all kinds of play behaviour that helps teach them skills and get them ready for the big bad world,” says Voigt.
As summer draws to a close, Michelle and her family have been seeing less and less of the family. Red fox kits will move out of their family territory to strike out on their own. All the male pups will leave the family home range and travel, sometimes long distances as far as 150 km, he says, while the females often just set up territory nearby.
Voigt adds that although Michelle’s observation of three adults working together to provide parental care isn’t unheard of, it’s quite a rare occurrence. He says that both mother and father red foxes work together to feed and rear their kits, and the the third adult that Michelle spotted may have been a daughter or a grandmother of the pair that was assisting the parents.
Red foxes also tend to build their dens away from coyote territories to avoid predation, he says. “One theory is that’s why urban foxes are becoming more common, is because they can get away from coyotes which are so prevalent in southern Ontario.”
As for living along human neighbours, Voigt says that red foxes “seem to co-exist very peacefully.” Property owners can help maintain that peaceful co-existence by minimizing disturbances at red fox den sites. People should never supplement or feed red foxes, adds Voigt.
Michelle adds that her family still sees a solo fox here and there on their evening walks. Sometimes the fox will have fresh prey in their mouth, while other times the fox will sit curiously on neighbours lawns and watch people walk by from a safe distance.
“Our family have thoroughly enjoyed learning about the wildlife in our backyard through this incredible experience,” says Michelle. “It has been a joy to watch the foxes grow into healthy, curious adults.”