The Roundup -

More Swift Foxes Observed in Area; Reporting Urged

 

The swift fox is an elusive animal, but in recent years more sightings of these small, gray-red foxes with black-tipped tails have been reported in southeastern Montana.

"We are seeing more in the area," said Region 7 Wildlife Manager John Ensign. "We hope to get a study funded. This is the time of year where they're starting to move around and set up territories."

In Montana the swift fox is a species of concern, managed through season quotas. But numbers are sparse in Region 7, so there is no hunting or trapping season here.

Swift foxes were once abundant on the Great Plains, but in the early 1900s numbers began to decline in response to government poisoning campaigns aimed at wolves, prairie dogs and ground squirrels. Swift foxes lost a prey source in prairie dogs and squirrels, and when wolves declined, they couldn't out-compete coyotes and red foxes for food. In 1969, Montana declared swift fox basically extinct locally. But due in part to transplant programs, sightings of swift foxes have increased in eastern and central Montana since the 1980s.

"There is a fairly substantial, stable population in Region 6 (north-central Montana), but it's spotty here, and south into Wyoming," Ensign said.

To find out why, Region 7 wildlife biologists are hoping to research swift fox population and distribution.

"We want to look at connectivity – that's the thrust behind the research project," Ensign explained.

To help them in that research, they encourage people to report any live or road-killed sightings of swift foxes to FWP.

In order to report sightings, however, people need to be able to tell the difference between swift foxes, red foxes and coyotes. Swift foxes are about the size of a house cat, smaller than red foxes and only about a fifth the size of coyotes. Red foxes are red, with some variations, and have white-tipped tails. Swift foxes have grayish-red fur and a black-tipped tail. Coyotes can have similar coloring and tail markings, but again are much larger.

Juvenile coyotes could resemble swift foxes, but Ensign cautioned that people would not be seeing coyote pups this time of year. And while coyotes and red foxes can be shot or trapped in Region 7, swift foxes cannot.

Region 7 Non-game Biologist Brandi Skone notes that swift foxes also often have a darker, teardrop-like pattern descending from their inner eye alongside the nose.

Swift foxes are year-round residents, inhabiting prairies and arid plains. Largely nocturnal, swift foxes can range over several square kilometers a night. They breed from late December to early March, with a single litter of three to six pups born late March to early May. Young are raised in an underground den, emerging in early June and dispersing in late summer or early fall.

Skone urges recreationists and others to contact the Miles City office if they see live or road-killed swift fox in the area. She can be reached at 406-234-0900, extension 148, or at bskone@mt.gov.

 

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