Wild Profile: Meet the swift fox

Published: December 15, 2020

A swift fox curled up in the snow, with one eye open By Matthew Jacques/Shutterstock

The swift fox is small but mighty. Mighty swift, that is. This housecat-sized canid is one of the tiniest foxes in the world, but can run as fast as 60 km/h. Sadly, speed didn’t help these little guys outrun near-extinction. In Canada, they were historically found from Manitoba to the Alberta foothills until about the early 1900s, when they began to steadily disappear. But thanks to reintroduction programs from groups such as Wildlife Preservation Canada in the 1990s, fox numbers tripled in Saskatchewan and Alberta. In four years. (That’s swift.)

Swift foxes have no problem with winter. They grow a long, coarse coat, and stick near their dens all year, often only emerging during the daytime to sun themselves a little on still, frosty days. Swift foxes can’t stand the wind, especially in winter. (Who can?) In fact, they’ll rarely leave the house—usually an abandoned, enlarged ground squirrel or badger nest—when it’s windy.

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A swift fox’s, uh, swiftness works to its advantage when it comes to catching food. Some are even fast enough to nab a jackrabbit. More often, these foxes go for smaller prey—mice and cottontails. Failing that, they’ll eat almost anything, including dead and decaying animals, birds, and amphibians. In the summer, meanwhile, insects such as grasshoppers can make up almost 50 per cent of their diets. They’ll even eat grass. (They’re plains-dwellers. There’s lots of that stuff around.)

Foxes are known for being clever, but the swift fox? Not considered the sharpest knife in the drawer. At least, one naturalist described them as the “least cunning” of all foxes. Zing! They’re curious and easily attracted to bait—probably one of the reasons trapping nearly eradicated them from Canada by the 1930s.

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