Bucky, Beware!

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At least eighteen wild foxes make their home on the UW campus, including this young animal seen (here and in the photos below) roaming the grounds near the Soils Building on a spring morning. The kit and its siblings became social media stars when they were spotted living in the Observatory Hill area beginning in March. Some students took fox sightings as good omens for their exam grades. Photos: Jeff Miller.

The fox is in town and stealing hearts all over Madison.

From the steps of Bascom to the trails of Muir Woods and even atop the Water Science and Engineering Laboratory roof, red foxes recently have claimed the campus for their own. They’ve inspired a Tumblr page and a Twitter hashtag, and now, research projects aimed at understanding these urban canids.

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“We think there are a lot around, and their populations are growing,” says David Drake, a UW associate professor of forest and wildlife ecology and an extension wildlife specialist who is studying the foxes. He will soon have a new graduate student working to better understand the wild animals that call the heart of campus home.

At last count, Drake says there were at least eighteen foxes on the UW campus, and he has received calls from people all over the city reporting additional sightings.

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Drake wants to know how these nimble creatures coexist in a human-dominated landscape. Where do they go when they roam, whom do they encounter, and how many urban chicken coops and gardens might they be raiding? He plans to get the public involved.

So far, the foxes seem to have adapted well to their bustling environment, taking advantage of ample habitat under campus buildings, and finding plenty of fresh rabbits and other prey to eat. Kits born this spring and raised by their mother will strike out on their own this fall.

How far will they stray? Drake hopes to find out.

Published in the Fall 2014 issue

Tags: campus, Research, Science, social media

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