Foxes Don’t Kill for Fun

Predators kill so they can eat, not just for the pleasure of killing.

A common myth about foxes suggests that they are ruthless murderers who kill other animals just for fun. This is not true of foxes or any other predator. Hunting takes a lot of energy and can leave an animal susceptible to injury by prey, so no animal chooses to do it “for fun.”

Of course, you’ve likely heard of— or witnessed— “henhouse syndrome,” more scientifically known as surplus killing. Foxes do, in times of abundance and ease, kill more animals than they can eat in one sitting. Though it may look like they’re killing excessively for no reason, their intent isn’t to abandon these “extra” kills. In nature, excess prey is either buried or hidden for later use, or is used to feed hungry family members. Male foxes, in particular, often kill extra prey that they plan to bring back to their nursing mates and kits.

If you own livestock, it’s important to keep them properly secured. This is important to protect them from not only foxes, but also coyotes, skunks, bobcats, feral cats, stray dogs, raccoons, and the many other animals that will eagerly accept easy, unsecured prey. But don’t hate animals for hunting to feed their families.

Litter isn’t Nesting Material for Birds

Yarn, string, and hair are not suitable nesting materials for birds.

As we get closer to spring, you‘ll likely start seeing memes and blogs suggesting that you help birds build their nests by leaving materials like yarn, string, human hair, and pet hair outside. Please, please don’t do this!

Wild birds don’t need help to find nesting materials. They’re everywhere and birds instinctively know where to look for them! They may become confused and accept yarn and other materials given by humans, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Long strands of yarn, string, or human hair often become wrapped around the legs or wings of birds, causing them to eventually lose circulation or the ability to fly. Hatchlings are especially susceptible to death when they become entangled in these “gifts” in the nest, and as they grow, the material will become tighter until it amputates a limb. Yikes!

Pet hair, yarn, string, and human hair are also full of materials that can be safe for us but toxic for birds, which are much more sensitive. The fragrance in your shampoo, dye in your yarn, and flea products in your pet’s fur are all quite dangerous to birds.

The best nesting materials that you can give birds are the ones that are already outside! Leaving twigs, leaves, grass clippings, and native plants in your yard can help to create a natural habitat where birds can thrive. Leave the litter out of your yard and dispose of your waste responsibly.

Killing Coyotes Endangers Pets

If you kill a coyote, it will ultimately put pets in more danger.

This time of year, you’re likely to see more and more stories about coyotes stalking, or even killing, cats and small dogs. As winter drags on, coyotes’ preferred prey (rodents and rabbits) become scarce and they’re more likely to begin looking toward pets as possible prey.

Killing a coyote will only make the situation more dangerous for pets in your neighborhood. The loss of one member of a family will upset the balance of the local coyote community. If an experienced adult is killed, their pups of the year, who are just beginning to seek independence, will become hungry and desperate. Suitors from other areas may may move in to court the coyote’s widowed mate. This will cause a rush of competition that ultimately puts pets in greater danger.

Fortunately, this doesn’t mean your pets have to become coyote food. There are many humane ways to keep your pets safe from coyotes. Cats should always be kept either indoors or in a secure, escape-proof enclosure. Small dogs are best kept on leashes or closely supervised at all times. A fenced yard can be secured against coyotes with products like coyote rollers and electricity.

You can also help to dissuade coyotes from coming too close to your home by eliminating anything that that may have attracted them there. Be sure to keep your trash cans secured, and to never leave pet food outside.

We all have to share our planet with wildlife, and we can peacefully coexist with coyotes and other predators. Please choose humane options to protect your pets, for both their sake and wildlife’s!

Deer Can Eat Poisonous Plants

Deer can eat poisonous plants by chasing them with salt or soil.

Native animals are so amazing in the ways they’ve adapted to survive within our ecosystem! Did you know that white-tailed deer can survive eating most toxic plants in our area? Deer are often seen foraging on huge amounts of nightshade, poison ivy, pokeweed, and hemlock with no apparent ill effects. They’ve even been known to become addicted to the psychoactive effects of some poisonous plants!

There are several ways deer survive eating poisonous plants. One of the most interesting involves immediately eating clay, soil, salt licks, or natural mineral deposits immediately after ingesting poisonous plants. These compounds help to neutralize some of the toxins and to activate special bacteria in a deer’s first stomach that help digest the poison.

Deer are also known to carefully mix up their diets in a way that keeps them from overloading their bodies’ defenses against poison. One study of mule deer— close relatives to our native whitetail deer— found that they can eat two times as much of a poisonous plant if they mix other plants into the meal. They may even instinctively browse on plants that contain natural antidotes to a poisonous plant.

Aren’t deer incredible?

Checking on Bird Nest Boxes

If you insist on checking on baby bluebirds and other cavity nesters, do it properly and carefully!

Are you one of the amazing people who helps bluebirds and other native cavity-nesting birds by providing them with nest boxes? Excellent! Please be careful so that your efforts to help dont accidentally harm.

While a lot of bird enthusiasts like to watch for signs of predators, parasites, and competitors, there can still be danger involved in checking on baby birds, especially cavity nesters, which depend on stable “indoor” temperatures. While it’s a myth that bird parents abandon their young because they smell human scents, birds so sometimes abandon a nest that has been repeatedly disturbed or is constantly being watched by humans. Who can blame them? None of us would want a giant predator coming into our babies’ nurseries every day to check on them!

Repeatedly disturbing a nest box can cause other problems as well, like chilling the baby birds and causing them to succumb to hypothermia, attracting predators to the nest, or causing baby birds to panic and leave the nest prematurely.

If you do choose to monitor a nest box, the safest way to do it is with a camera. These can cost a bit of money, of course, but can be very enjoyable and can allow you to see and photograph the bird family at any time.

If you insist on checking nest boxes the old-fashioned way, please use caution. Only open the box if is warm, dry, and quiet outside so the babies don’t become chilled. Never remove any of the nesting materials, since this can attract predators to the area and take away much-needed insulation for the baby birds. Although the parents can’t smell if you’ve touched the nest or young, it is still very scary for the little ones, so please avoid handling them.

Don’t check nest boxes more than once per day (ideally much less!) and stop checking them entirely once their bodies are covered in feathers. Opening the box or getting too close to the nest can scare the babies and force them to leave the nest before they’re fully ready.

Nest boxes are one of the kindest things you can do for birds in your neighborhood! Please be careful so your help doesn’t hurt!

Nandina Berries Kill Birds in Winter

Nandina berries are dangerous to birds.

Nandina is one of the most common ornamental plants in our area. It’s marketed under many names, including “heavenly bamboo,” but it is neither heavenly nor bamboo. It’s a highly invasive and poisonous domestic plant that can kill animals in your neighborhood.

Nandina owes its popularity to the fact that it’s a brightly colored evergreen with beautiful red berries that remain through winter. This trait makes the toxic berries even more dangerous. In winter, most berries become more scarce and birds that depend on fruit gravitate toward the plentiful and attractive berries of nandina plants. They have no way to know that the berries are poisonous and will kill them.

Native birds aren’t the only ones that suffer: raccoons, cats, and livestock can also become extremely sick after eating nandina berries and leaves.

If you have nandina plants growing on your property, please destroy them, or, at the very least, cut off the berries to avoid unintentionally poisoning your wild neighbors. If you’re the crafty type, the berries can be brought indoors and repurposed for crafts and decor!

Prevent Pandemics: Don’t Feed Wildlife

Raccoons and other wild mammals are suffering from a pandemic of their own.

For years, raccoons have been suffering through a catastrophic pandemic introduced to them by domestic dogs. Canine distemper is a highly contagious, horrifically painful, and invariably fatal disease that infects large numbers of raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes in Tennessee. As many as half of the calls we receive are related to cases of canine distemper.

Canine distemper is not contagious to humans or vaccinated dogs, but it has a serious effect on our native wildlife. In some parts of the world, entire species are hanging on the brink of extinction due to canine distemper outbreaks.

Unlike us, raccoons and other wild animals don’t have ways to prepare for pandemics, so they depend on our help. One way that you can help prevent canine distemper in wildlife is by never feeding wild mammals. Artificial feeding causes them to unnaturally congregate in small areas, where they can easily be infected by exposure to each other’s coughs, sneezes, and saliva. We have seen many people’s backyards turn into “super spreader events” as the raccoons they fed all fell sick one by one.

Please do your part to prevent pandemics in wildlife! Vaccinate your pets and avoid feeding wild mammals.

T’challa’s Story

T’challa, our bobcat ambassador.

Many of you have seen T’challa’s story in bits and pieces and have had a lot of questions. Is he a pet? Why do people keep calling him “potato?” What’s that thing on his neck? Can I pet him?

For our newer friends and fans, here’s his whole story… and an opportunity to ask us anything!

T’challa was found in a driveway as a newborn kitten, on what was no doubt a very surreal morning for his finder. He had a gash on his foot that looked like it was left by a raptor claw and was taken to a veterinarian. The vet treated him for his injuries and got him to an emergency foster home, with people experienced caring for newborn domestic kittens, while they looked for a rehabilitator. They found us!

We named him T’challa because we thought it would be suitable to name this year’s bobcats after Marvel heroes, since they’re so powerful and majestic. But, during his kittenhood at For Fox Sake, it slowly became clear that T’challa was “special.” He missed all of his milestones, and was late to learn to do things as simple as licking formula from a dish. He didn’t try to “hunt” food or toys at the ages he should have done so. His lack of intelligence ultimately earned him the affectionate nickname “Potato.”

Although we tried to maintain our distance in hopes that he could “wild up” and be released one day, he was overwhelmingly friendly and tame.

When T’challa was four months old, his veterinarian asssessed him and determined that he could not be released to the wild, and wasn’t likely to develop the skills necessary to do so. Not only did he have no instincts to hunt or defend himself, but he was rejected and attacked by other bobcat patients we tried to introduce him to. He believes he is a person! In the wild, he would have either starved or gotten trapped or shot.

This put us in a dilemma. We loved him dearly, but we believe that bobcats should never be pets and should never be presented to the public in a way that makes it look like they’re pets. A bobcat on a leash and harness just isn’t the message we wanted to give!

Most bobcats are not like T’challa and will eventually become unmanageable and aggressive. They mark everything they own with concentrated urine and they have powerful jaws and claws that can be very dangerous if they “snap.” We felt T’challa would do best at a large facility where he might get some much-needed love behind the scenes, but would only be seen by the public in a natural-like setting.

We worked hard for months to find T’challa a home with large facilities, zoos, and nature centers, particularly those accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance. But, because COVID hit many organizations’ budgets and most are overwhelmed with bobcats that were surrendered “pets,” no large facility in Tennessee was able to take him and the state denied our request to transfer him out of state.

We’d be lying if we said we weren’t, on some level, happy about setting up a huge habitat, sorting out licensing and insurance, and keeping T’challa here. We love the little booger and know he feels safe and loved here.

But we also know that our education programming sends mixed messages to the public. Since we can’t “display” animals at a home-based facility where wildlife rehabilitation takes place, it means T’challa comes off-site on a leash and harness when he comes to educational programs. We worry that our supporters see him wearing his harness and leash and— despite everything else we say— get the idea that they can go out and buy a bobcat and expect it to grow up to be a big silly potato like T’challa!

Although having T’challa as a permanent resident at For Fox Sake was plan C— after releasing him to the wild and rehoming him to a larger sanctuary— we’re ultimately thankful for the honor of giving him a forever home and sharing him with you.

Our ultimate goal as T’challa’s handlers is that he will help people realize that bobcats are beautiful, sensitive, and worthy of love and respect in the natural world. We hope he might make people think twice before shooting or trapping a bobcat to turn it into a coat or out of a misguided attempt to protect livestock.

We also hope that people understand that bobcats are happiest in the natural world, and that it’s not a good idea to kidnap or buy a bobcat in hopes that it might grow up to be this docile. He is one-of-a-kind and that’s why he is so precious!

Do Coyotes Howl When Hunting?

Coyotes don’t announce their presence to prey.

Many people panic when they hear the howls and yips of their coyote neighbors. They often believe these sounds mean that they, or their pets, are in danger.

Don’t worry! Although it’s always best to keep small pets properly contained, a coyote who is howling isn’t trying to announce that it’s about to eat you or anyone else. There’s no need to run inside or batten down the hatches or warn everyone in your neighborhood.

Coyotes are around us all the time without causing us any harm. Whether you hear them or not, they are present in our neighborhoods and parks. When you hear them howl, it isn’t because they only just migrated to your neighborhood or because they’re searching for food— they’ve been there all along, and you just happened to notice them singing.

Coyotes howl and yip not to announce to their food that they plan to eat it (who would scare away their dinner?) but to communicate with one another. A coyote may howl to bond with family, meet up with a friend or relative, or warn territorial rivals that this land is taken. Like most other predators, coyotes hunt silently by sneaking up on their prey.

Coyotes live in small family groups typically containing just two to five individuals, but use auditory illusions to make themselves sound like a large, intimidating pack. Just one mated pair might sound like a dozen or more animals! This is one of the reasons that people are often alarmed by their calls.

Enjoy listening to your coyote neighbors as they communicate with each other. There’s no reason to worry!

Let’s Talk About Cages.

“It’s so sad to see them in cages.”

This is a comment we see frequently, even from those who strongly support our organization and mission.

We understand! Wild animals look happiest and most beautiful when they’re running through fields and drowsing in tree tops. Large zoos are able to use painted backgrounds, glass enclosures, electrified wiring, and big moats to contain their animals, so their wards often appear to have a lot more space and freedom. Although our enclosures all meet or exceed the standards set by the NWRA and USDA, our iron bars and chain link fencing at For Fox Sake might look drab and depressing compared to what you might see at your favorite zoo.

The reason For Fox Sake doesn’t look like a zoo is because, we’ll, it’s not one! Our goal, first and foremost, is to provide temporary care for animals that will be returned to the wild after 3-4 months of treatment. Although we have a few nonreleasable education ambassadors, most of the animals seen in our photos are patients who are here only while recovering from injuries, or are young orphans that are still growing up. These patients will eventually be released to the freedom of the wild.

We don’t have a large budget or paid staff, and aren’t open to the public, so we focus our funds on the actual care of our patients rather than on creating the aesthetics seen in zoos. All of our patients’ enclosures have everything they could possibly need: ponds, exercise wheels, climbing surfaces, shelters, toys, clean water, and food sources. We prioritize keeping our patients happy, healthy, and entertained as they prepare for life in the wild, even if that may not be visible in every photo.

Although we agree that animals deserve free lives in nature whenever possible, we promise our patients are happy and well cared for, and that our ultimate, most important goal is always to give them the freedom they deserve!