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You can look, but don't touch young wildlife of spring

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Travis Grimler / Echo Journal Fox litters on average range up to six kits. This litter started as nine.2 / 8
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal After her kits apparently refused to simply follow her from the den near the Echo Journal office, she carried each one over the course of several hours to a new home.3 / 8
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal Brainerd Area Wildlife Supervisor Christine Reisz with the DNR said foxes eat various small mammals, as well as turtles, frogs and other creatures. Kits will start to eat solid food at about age 4 weeks.4 / 8
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal Red foxes like this are somewhat tolerant of humans if they don't get too close. They may abandon a den if interaction appears too close or frequent. These photos were captured on a trail camera.5 / 8
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal Brainerd Area Wildlife Supervisor Christine Reisz with the DNR said kits need to nurse every couple hours before weaning at 12 weeks.6 / 8
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal After the kits were moved from the den near the Echo Journal office, this fox kept revisiting the den for a day or two. The office theorized it may have been the mate of the fox that relocated the kits. It was also seen carrying food away from this den.7 / 8
Travis Grimler / Echo Journal These kits, approximately 5 weeks old, play regularly when not hiding in their den.8 / 8

Anyone who has watched "Bambi" is aware of the abundance of newborn animals that arrive with spring. Whether rural or urban, residents will start seeing an influx of young wildlife now that the weather is more spring-like.

"The most common things in the Brainerd wildlife area are small mammals ranging from squirrels and mice ... but wherever you find prey, there will be larger mammals like fox and coyotes that frequent the Brainerd lakes area," said Nathan Thom, assistant area wildlife manager with the Department of Natural Resources in Brainerd. "Woodchucks, skunks, raccoon, and moving up from there, a lot of deer."

Some animals will avoid areas with significant human traffic, but others seem instead to thrive on developed properties. Just outside the DNR office building in Brainerd is a fox den, burrowed underneath the sidewalk, for example. Thom theorized the mother fox chose that location in part because the walkway is heated in the winter. Animals will tend to shelter where they feel the likelihood of survival is greater.

"We have reports of fawns being laid down next to people's decks and things like that basically because they perceive that as a safe spot from predators, which is very cool," Thom said.

On a similar note, a litter of nine fox kits was spotted living in a den on the Echo Journal property this spring. Thom suggested the mother, who had a healthy, successful winter leading to her birthing nine kits, found resources and shelter on the newspaper's property that convinced her the location was a good fit.

"It's a full-time job raising, especially nine kits, so you have to have a lot of food," Thom said. "It depends on how much prey is in the area."

Just as prey animals seek shelter in residential areas where they might avoid predation, some savvy predators might find prey animals more abundant and easier targets. As a result, even some larger predators may leave the safety of the woods to visit town.

"Timberwolves have been spotted throughout most of Baxter and almost downtown Brainerd, which is interesting," Thom said. "I don't think they make it a home, but they figure there's a nice food source here, whether it be cottontail rabbits or woodchuck or whatever. There are plenty of them running around."

People are perhaps more familiar with errant bears in residential areas.

"One thing we deal with this time of year especially are bears in bird feeders and bears in garbage," Thom said. "From now to mid or late June you will see bears causing problems for people. They just went through a winter. They haven't eaten for months. They are hungry and thirsty. The first thing they do is to go after those bird feeders and garbage cans. I recommend you take them down at least part of June or put them away at night. Garbage cans - don't put them out more than a few hours before the garbage man comes. Don't leave them a day or two early by the curb or you might come home to a mess."

When at all possible, Thom said homeowners should consider observing animals that choose to take shelter near them, and not disrupt them by harassing them or trying to touch them. With this advice comes the annual reminder to people about finding fawns bedded down alone on their properties.

"We're soon going to see fawns throughout the area," Thom said. "The best thing to do is leave them alone. Everyone thinks their mother left them and is not coming back because the mother must have gotten hit by a car. Well, they can leave them for well over a day and come back to take care of the fawn. The best thing to do is leave that fawn right where they left it and witness one of the cool things that takes place here every spring. Other baby animals like fox, it's important you don't disturb them very much. They'll put up with a disturbance, but just leave them alone. Don't try to pet or play with them."

While these situations offer people special opportunities to observe wildlife from a distance, Thom admitted that sometimes when animals cause property damage or pose a threat to children or pets, it is within a homeowner's rights to try to remove them in some fashion. He gave advice for nonlethal ways to get rid of these animals, when possible, including waiting until they have evacuated the nest or den completely, at which time their entryways can be blocked.

Some scents or large predator decoys can also be placed on property to drive away some animals. Sometimes, all it takes is harassment. Thom said many animals can be permanently driven from dens on your property simply through persistent harassment that makes them doubt the shelter's safety, though when possible it is better to enjoy their presence.

As for the fox family on the Echo Journal property, after two weeks and hours of video on wildlife camera traps, the mother decided to relocate her nine kits to a new site, though it is possible she will return in following years, depending on her reason for leaving.

"They'll reuse those den sites," Thom said. "You can expect she'll be back to check it out next time she has a litter."

Help us out

The Echo Journal would like your help finding and documenting our natural world. Watch for turtle nests on your property this June and let us know if you would like to help us document the hatching in the fall. Contact us with this and other ideas for using our trail cameras.

Or, if you have photos of wildlife you would like to share, send them our way.