It began one midnight in early April – the unearthly, tortured cries of an animal, seemingly in the extreme of distress. They were high-pitched shrieks such as I have heard before only when a dog has been hit and badly injured by a car.
The screams seemed to come from Jacobus Park, just below my house. I went out into the night in the hope of finding the poor creature so I could call the police and have them end its suffering.
As soon as I got to the wide, well-lighted corner at 60th Street and Menomonee Parkway, I saw them, chasing madly in the middle of the street.
Foxes! There were two, and neither appeared to be hurt in any way. In fact, both were handsome, bushy-tailed specimens, speedy and alert. The moment they saw me, they evaporated into the woods along the river bank. I waited awhile, and soon the appalling cries began again.
I guessed that this was some sort of territorial behavior and that there was likely a den nearby belonging to one of these animals. The next morning I went out to see if I could find it, and it didn't take long. As I scanned the woods in the park, a young woman approached me and asked, "Have you seen the foxes?" She pointed out the den where her husband had seen six young foxes coming and going the day before.
None were out at the moment, but I kept an eye out from my second-story rear deck. It wasn't long before I witnessed something that made me doubt the young woman's story.
A woodchuck that frequents my back yard was nibbling at some spring growth, and I strolled out to say hello. The woodchuck eyed me nervously and then waddled off in what seemed to me a dangerous direction – straight toward the fox hole.
"No, buddy, not there!" I muttered as he made a beeline for the den. Surely, I thought, he would soon smell fox and turn back. But no, he kept right on, and then to my amazement, right down the hole he went.
How could this be possible? A little research confirmed it, though, as well as many hours of observation during which I saw the woodchuck come and go daily, but never when the foxes were out. They seemed to have some sort of landlord-tenant arrangement whereby the terms of the lease involved a few months of free rent in exchange for not being eaten.
I soon learned that my neighbor two doors up the street, Karen Roback, had been watching the fox family for some time, as her rear deck affords a balcony view. She had seen the mother nursing her kits outside the hole and gotten pictures, which she offered to share. Karen even took out with a broom after a snooping coyote one night to protect her adopted brood.
Karen and I spent a number of fascinating mornings and evenings watching, photographing and videotaping the family as the kits grew older and bolder. Their play is as much catlike as doglike, but most of the time purely foxy. The little ones had found a white ball, and they spent hours playing with it. They wrestled and chased and pounced and tried to climb trees.
By this time, Mother fox wasn't often seen, but Dad spent a lot of time out with the kids. He was far more wary than his children, who would let anyone get within 20 feet of them before disappearing down one of what turned out to be a whole suite of holes in the hillside – no doubt excavated and maintained for their convenience by Mr. Woodchuck.
Karen and I agreed that we should compile our photos, video and the recordings we both made on our phones of those strangled cries in the night into something to share, but to not publish it until the young foxes were old enough to be independent of the den. They are now, and they are seldom seen, and when seen they are considerably more grownup in their behavior.
We hope you will enjoy our video presentation, compiled and edited for Patch by A.J. Randall of Rockridge Productions.