Foxes making themselves at home in Oakwood

OAKWOOD — Christmas Day was the first time Mabel Tanner saw her new "neighbor" stroll across the yard.

Since then, the mother fox has had four pups, and they've made themselves at home living under Tanner's shed in the back yard of her house on Seymour Street in Oakwood.

Tanner has seen them almost every day until this week. Her forsythia bush is the mother fox's favorite spot, Tanner said.

But last Saturday morning, the mother fox picked a spot a little closer. Tanner said the mom was curled up asleep on her deck. When she stepped outside, the fox got up and walked away.

"She's very tame. ... She's every unconcerned about me," said Tanner, who thinks the mother and blonde babies are cute but isn't crazy about them being in her yard. She's not afraid of them and knows to just leave them alone, but they have an odor, she said, that's almost worse than skunks. And the mother drags her meals, including rabbit, squirrel and even a rat, into her back yard, she said.

"They dig holes in the yard. They are kind of a nuisance," she said.

Tanner's not the only Seymour Street resident in Oakwood with foxes making themselves at home.

Oakwood Village President Bob Jennings said there are four homes on the west side of town where the residents have reported fox dens under their sheds. Jennings has one in his back yard that he and his wife see almost every morning. And it's common to see them darting through town, even across "the main drag," he said.

Jennings said he's had one casually walk within six feet of him.

"I spoke to him, and he didn't speak back. He didn't even look at me. They're rude," he joked.

The infiltration of foxes has resulted in quite a few residents calling or visiting the village office, Jennings said. Some are concerned that the foxes are a threat to their pets or small children and others are concerned about some residents who are feeding the "cute" animals.

"You don't think you'll be spending a lot of time (at the village office) on something like this," he said.

Jennings talked this week with a wildlife biologist at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, who told him that the foxes don't pose a threat to pets or humans as long as people are not feeding them. Jennings said he's trying to get out the word to Oakwood residents that they should not feed the animals. He said the biologists told him that if people do continue to feed them, that's when the animals will get too close to humans and run the risk of biting to protect their food source.

Nicki Rosenhagen, student manager of the Wildlife Medical Clinic at the University of Illinois, said feeding any wildlife is a bad idea. Whether squirrels, raccoons or foxes, feeding them will attract an abnormally large number of animals to an area, and the animals learn that people provide food, and they begin to lose their natural, instinctive fear of humans.

"That's when they can become dangerous," said Rosenhagen, who added that foxes particularly are shy and timid by nature and rarely approach people unless they are sick or were raised around humans. And, she said, foxes are small enough that they don't pose a threat to humans or pets, unless it's a tiny dog. She said coyotes that are more of a threat to pets.

Rosenhagen said there are a number of species, like raccoons and squirrels, that have adapted well to living in proximity to people and are taking advantage of the potential sources of food and shelter, like garbage and sheds, as humans continue to encroach on their natural territory. Also, she said, there's an abundant supply of natural food where people live, including rabbits and squirrels, and fewer big predators of the foxes that keep their numbers in check.

"So now they have a great food supply, and good places to live, like under a shed or deck, or wood piles, that make pretty safe dens. So I wouldn't be surprised if their numbers are growing," she said.

Tanner said she can't ever remember having foxes in her yard before this past Christmas, but her yard does have a lot of squirrels and rabbits.

"A lot of people have been interested in (the foxes)," said Tanner, who has had visitors stopping by her house hoping to catch a glimpse of the resident fox and her pups, which Tanner believes are gone, because she hasn't seen them since Saturday. She said she enjoyed watching them.

"But it was sort of a doubled-sided thing. You do (enjoy them), and you don't," she said.

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