Tuesday, March 20, 2018

More Connections Between Bald Eagles and Island Foxes

courtesy of P. Sharpe; bald eagle catching fish off the islands
The recovery of bald eagles on the California Channel Islands has played an important role in island fox recovery. Bald eagles prey on fish and marine birds. They are not mammal predators and do not actively hunt island foxes. Because bald eagles nest on the Channel Islands, they chase away migrating golden eagles and do not allow them to colonize the islands.

With 50-60 bald eagles now living across the eight Channel Islands, no island foxes are known to have been killed by golden eagles for several years. Bald eagles definitely make a difference in the ecosystem for island foxes. But what benefit do island foxes provide bald eagles?  

Across the Channel Islands bald eagles are hatching out their 2018 chicks. Channel Island National Park reported that there are 13 active bald eagle nests across the islands this year and at least 22 known eggs.  

courtesy P. Sharpe
Three eaglets hatched in the Sauces Canyon nest last week on Santa Cruz Island. You can watch them 24 hrs a day via a webcam https://explore.org/livecams/bald-eagles/channel-islands-national-park-sauces-bald-eagle

Tonight, close observers saw some unexpected visitors to the bald eagle nest. Along with fish, the parent bald eagles have brought scavenged seal placenta back to the nest to feed their chicks. But with the darkness, something else stole up into the nest to eat the placenta bits. Circled in green, do you see the surprise scavengers? island deer mice.

captured image from the webcam 3/20/18
Who would have thought that hungry deer mice would come up into the bald eagle nest to eat meaty placenta. The eagle does not have night vision, it is a daytime hunter. It could hear the munching mice and would occasionally drive them off. Island deer mice are known to eat songbird eggs, and possibly chicks, when given the opportunity, (like when island fox populations were very low). The eaglets are small and without their parent's protection, would they be prey for the gang of deer mice? At one point six deer mice were visible.

Island foxes play an important role in controlling island deer mouse populations. 

Other bald eagle parents on the islands are sleeping soundly tonight, but the bald eagle with the messy nest is wide awake in the rain. It has two jobs tonight: keeping three eaglets warm and dry, and keeping the deer mice at bay. It will be a long night for this bald eagle, it needs an island fox.

Island foxes sometimes clean leftover food out of bald eagle nests. Island fox in a bald eagle nest.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Sex and the Single Island Fox

When it comes to reproduction, island foxes are not your typical canine. 

A female dog will go into heat and become reproductively receptive even if there is no male dog nearby. Dogs have spontaneous ovulation, they have a determined reproductive cycle which includes a spike of hormone to release the ovum or egg into the female's reproductive tract. Not so with island foxes. 

Captive breeding occurred from 2000 - 2008
During the period of captive breeding to increase island fox populations, it was discovered that female island foxes, without access to a male partner, did not show the elevated hormone patterns signaling they had ovulated. These single females did not go into heat.

A similar reproductive behavior occurs in members of suborder Feliformia, or the cat branch of carnivores (cats, otters, wolverines, ferrets, etc.), and in bears. These species have induced ovulation–some physical or hormonal stimulus from the male is required to stimulate or initiate ovulation.

To date island foxes are the only canine observed to have this reproductive trait. However, research on this facet of reproduction is minimal. It is unknown if gray foxes, the ancestor of island foxes, are induced ovulators. 

Gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are an ancient species. Some sources consider them the most basal or closest to the root of the canine family tree. In Decline and Recovery of the Island Fox the authors suggest induced ovulation may be a primitive trait shared between these ancient canines and other carnivores, like cats and bears. Spontaneous ovulation may have evolved later in the branches of the canine family tree that gave rise to red foxes and wolves. Compare gray fox and island fox.

The single female island fox? 

Well, she just doesn't waste her reproductive energy if there is no eligible mate at hand. 

What other animals are known to have induced ovulation? rabbits and camels

Friday, March 02, 2018

Fox Foto Friday - Island Foxes in Art

To know island foxes is to love them. This charming wedding cake duo topped the nuptial cake for one of our favorite island fox biologists. 

From cakes to wood carvings, ...

...island foxes are gradually making their way into culture and consciousness.

If you think about it, island foxes are a pretty good totem for marital happiness: they are more monogamous than humans and form very strong pair bonds. Males and females are devoted to family. More about island fox behavior.

Pair during captive breeding period

More island foxes in Art:
The Art of an Ecosystem - interactive art on the island fox story
Student Art & Conservation Project

Monday, February 26, 2018

Island Foxes and The Art of an Ecosystem

No species stands alone and artist Zoe Keller has created a masterful piece of art that weaves together the island fox’s conservation story with the natural history of Santa Cruz Island.

Keller’s vivid graphite drawing depicts the interconnected world of island foxes, bald eagles, California sea lions, island spotted skunks, numerous birds, plants, insects and humans on the Channel Islands. The images seen here are small glimpses of a large work that Keller has made interactive with natural history information.

Keller has thanked Friends of the Island Fox for providing background research by providing us with access to her full-sized interactive piece. Go and explore the Interactive Drawing

Overview of the Santa Cruz Island drawing

More about artist Zoe Keller

Friends of the Island Fox receives no financial benefit nor provides any support to Zoe Keller. This link to her work is made as a public benefit and exchange of educational material.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Fox Foto Friday - Island Fox Eating Redberry

Island foxes love their native fruit! Across the Channel Islands native fruit sometimes makes up over 50% of the island fox's diet

Researcher Todd West observed this island fox eating island redberry. From toyon and lemonade berry, to Catalina Island cherry and prickly pear cactus, if the native fruit is red, island foxes eat it.

Thank you, Todd, for sharing your photo with Friends of the Island Fox. More of Todd's photos. More island foxes eating.

Do you have a great photo of an island fox? Share it with Fox Foto Friday - islandfoxnews@gmail.com 

Friday, February 09, 2018

Make the Island Fox Your Sweetheart

This Valentine's Day
Won't you share your passion?

February through April, island fox pups will be born across the Channel Islands. Help give the 2018 pups the best chance of survival by supporting two important conservation projects.

Recycled radio-tracking collars: 
Good for foxes and the environment
Pups on San Miguel Island face serious challenges like drought and climate change. Young foxes are struggling to survive and adults are threatened by new parasites.

island fox with radio collar
You can help National Park biologists better protect the foxes by donating toward a radio-tracking collar. Radio collars help biologists respond quickly when foxes are in danger. By refurbishing previously used collars, we're also reducing costs for foxes and the environment. Each refurbished collar costs $220, a 33% savings over typical radio collar costs and keeps a used collar out of landfills.

This Valentine's Day, FIF has our hearts set on funding 15 radio collars!

Slow Down for Foxes!

Island foxes on Catalina face another serious danger: automobiles. One of the ways to alert drivers to the dangers of speeding in fox territory is through electronic signs that tell drivers they are going too fast. These signs have been shown to slow down traffic and reduce fox injuries and death.

A critical sign on Catalina needs replacing. For $3,000, we can repair the sign and put it back in service, saving more fox lives.

Two Ways to Share Your Passion
Donate Today

or by mail:
Friends of the Island Fox: 2390 C Las Posas Road, Suite #120, Camarillo CA 93010

Help create a better future for island foxes!

Friday, February 02, 2018

Island Foxes With a Sweet Tooth

What is that island fox doing?

On a December trip to Santa Cruz Island several observers documented a number of island foxes busily searching the ground under the eucalyptus trees.

courtesy of Douglas E. Welch
Initially we thought they were finding food debris left by campers, but the more we watched the more it became apparent that the island foxes were licking something on the leaf litter. The December day was unusually warm and dry. (This was while the Thomas Fire in Ventura was blazing.) We watched foxes in close proximity to each other completely engaged in their search and paying no attention to us or each other. At one point there were seven foxes in this small area. -
Douglas Welch

bloom after island fox licked it

The red gum eucalyptus trees were in bloom. One young island fox stood on its hind legs and pulled down a low branch so it could access the flowers. One at a time, it stuck it's muzzle into the eucalyptus blooms, licking and nibbling them. I've been visiting Santa Cruz for over 10 years. I've never seen this behavior before. - Keri Dearborn 

Little beads of sticky sap were on the tables and benches. I touched my finger to the sap and tapped it on my tongue–it was sweet.  - Michael Lawshe

One island fox wandered within several feet of me. Each time it found a drop of sweet sap, it would lick it up and make a soft sound, almost like a purr. - Keri Dearborn
On this dry hot day in December, the island foxes were licking up the sweet eucalyptus sap. While this is not known to be a typical behavior, it is another example of the adaptive nature of these unique canines. Typical island fox diet. Island foxes eating toyon berries that same day.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Friends of the Island Fox Joins With Channel Islands Restoration

photo courtesy of Todd West
This island fox is eating small native berries. 
Plants sustain island foxes.

2018 begins with some exciting news!

Friends of the Island Fox 
is now a program of Channel Islands Restoration.


Channel Islands Restoration (CIR) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that protects rare and endangered plants and animals by restoring habitat in sensitive and unique natural areas on the California Channel Islands and adjacent mainland.  

In 2016, FIF and CIR worked together taking two groups of volunteers to Santa Cruz Island to remove invasive plants.

Families removing invasive oyster plant on Santa Cruz Island

Island foxes are intricately connected to the other plants and animals in their ecosystem. This new relationship with CIR will enhance FIF's ability to effect long-term positive change for island foxes across the six islands where they live.  We look forward to working with CIR to revitalize habitat for island foxes and other island species. 

The health and welfare of island foxes remains FIF's priority. From radio-tracking collars to vaccinations, from campground food lockers to education presentations, your donations to Friends of the Island Fox support a variety of conservation efforts, public education, and research focused on island fox survival. What We Do

Meet FIF's new Advisory Committee and consider how you can help island foxes. 

Working together we can protect island foxes and their Channel Island home.

Keri Dearborn, FIF Program Director 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Fox Foto Friday - Island Fox Casual

Few wild animals, especially top predators, will go about their daily lives right in front of human observers. Island fox as predator. Researcher Todd West took this photo of a Santa Cruz Island fox on a recent visit to the Channel Islands. 

Island foxes in Channel Islands National Park regard people as equals. These tiny predators are not afraid of people because they have had a positive relationship with humans for thousands of years. Modern visitors play a vital role in maintaining that relationship; Visiting The Island Fox.

Thank you, Todd, for sharing your image with Friends of the Island Fox.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Fox Foto Friday - Island Fox School Project

An island fox, its habitat, diet, behavior and life story.

This wonderful school project was created by a 3rd grade student at Opal Robinson Elementary School in Manhattan Beach.

FIF school presentations will be available on a limited basis beginning in March 2018. 

Teachers - island foxes are a real world entry into math, history, science and ecology. Check out island fox school activities K-12. 

Monday, January 01, 2018

Friends of the Island Fox's "12 Days of Winter"

Happy New Year 2018!
On the 12th Day of Winter the Islands gave to me...

Find out more about island foxes and their

A huge Thank You to Douglas E. Welch for providing graphic design and to the photographers that contributed to this project: Michael E. Lawshe, Keri Dearborn, Douglas E. Welch, Peter Pendergest, Catherine Schwemm, and Mike Watling. A special Thank You to Cathy Van Slyke, who's photo of an island fox in a fig tree provided the inspiration.