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Of Foxes, Cats and Birds
By Hugh Nicolay, Bird Lover and Cat Owner
A fox has been seen in the Village multiple times during the past several months. Aren't we fortunate to be able to share our little town with this elegant creature? I have lived in Florida for fifty years and spent a good bit of time in the woods and can't remember seeing a fox in the wild. I have seen our fox three times so far. Each time I was walking our dog and saw him or her crossing a road or Wood-Nutting Green. I was surprised how small it was. It is very light red in color and I have yet to see the white tail tip or dark feet. These are field marks of the of the Red Fox.
According to my reading the Red Fox is a species which was brought over from Europe and eventually replaced or cross bred with our native fox. The Red Fox is now widely distributed over North America except in the southwest and south Florida. Another species of fox that might be in our area is the Gray Fox. It has a black tip on its tail and tends to be nocturnal. Both species eat a variety of rodents, birds, insects, fruits, reptiles, carrion, and frequently store extra food in caches. The fox is a loner except when breeding.
Of the near relatives of the Red Fox and Gray Fox only the Coyote might be expected in the Village. The Coyote has been expanding its range and is now reported regularly on he ranch lands to the west of us. Additionally, Bobcat, our only wildcat have been reported as a visitor to some Village yards near Nixon Hammock.
Another predator not so natural in the Village is the domestic cat. Some feral cats probably augment our roaming pet cat population. Unthinking people seem to think they are doing their unwanted cat a favor by dumping it in a park, port, or rural area. There have been numerous studies on the impact of roaming cats on the wild bird populations. One can only imagine the impact of the government sanctioned feral cat colonies maintained by cat lovers in our various parks in the county. In an University of Florida study, an estimated 68 million Florida wide birds fall prey to outdoor cats each year.
Fortunately, we don't have any feral cat colonies in the Village, but an early morning walk or bike ride will find you crossing paths with tens of free roaming pet cats. Cat owners will be quick to tell you that their cat stays in the yard and doesn't kill wild birds because their cat is well fed, had been de-clawed, and has a bell. Not true. Cats kill wild birds. It's in their genes. Keeping them inside will save bird lives. You would think that real cat lovers would keep pets inside and safe for the cat's sake. In the Village there is an ordinance against free roaming cats and dogs. If a neighbor's roaming cat troubles you talk to them and request that they keep the pet indoors. If that doesn't work you have the option of setting a humane Have- A- Heart trap. These traps are available at Ace Hardware. If you catch the cat and not a raccoon, call or take the cat to animal control on Sarno Road west of I-95. The owner can retrieve the cat after paying a fee.
The Village needs to control the outdoor cat population. Particularly hard pressed are our ground nesting and dwelling birds such as the Brown Thrasher, Bob White, Chuck-wills-widow, Carolina Wren, American Robin, Mockingbird, and our Town symbolic bird the Northern Cardinal. If we don't we can look forward to a diminished population of Village bird life.