It was late March when Tom and Jane Rupley of Westford Road first realized that they had visitors.
“Rup (Tom) was out there and he came back in the house and he said, ‘Janey I think there’s a dog under the barn,’” said Jane Rupley.
The Rupleys spoke to an animal expert who told them that it was likely fox or coyote pups, and not a trapped dog. Their granddaughter, Morgan, was the first to spot the fox heading towards the barn, where the Rupleys house a pony named Easter.
“She peeked through the curtain and saw the fox walking through the pasture — ‘Nanni Nanni! There’s a fox in Easter’s paddock,’ she said — I think she was afraid that the fox had hurt Easter,” said Rupley.
The Rupleys learned later that the fox Morgan spotted that day was the mother of five baby foxes, or kits, taking refuge under their barn.
“This is the time of year when young are dispersing,” said Pat Huckery, the northeast district manager for MassWildlife. “They get themselves into a little bit of trouble.”
Springtime means more fox and coyote sightings, and for Huckery, more frantic phone calls.
“We get calls after people see them in the daytime. They think they’re nocturnal but when feeding they get active in the daylight,” she said. “The adults are just trying to take care of their pups.”
When to report wildlife
The Rupleys, who have lived in their home on Westford Road since 1985, have had their fair share of wildlife encounters.
“We’ve seen everything here,” said Rupley. “We had the bear here two years ago. That bear bothered me, but this,” she said, gesturing towards the kit just waking up from a nap in the fields, “This I like.”
To Rupley, the fox parents couldn’t have picked a better home for their kits.
“They’ve got the pond, they’ve got the good hunting in the fields, and I think they must have a certain sense that they’re safer to be near us than to be out in the wild raising little kits,” she said.
One thing that all Concord residents should be able to distinguish this season, said Huckery, is the difference between normal and abnormal wildlife behavior.
“When house cats start disappearing in a neighborhood this gets people very excited,” she said. “But the important thing to remember is that it’s perfectly normal behavior for a coyote to take that cat, day or night. It doesn’t mean that you have a bad coyote in the neighborhood.”
The time to call the Concord Police Department or the Environmental Police, said Huckery, is when an animal is displaying aggressive or atypical behavior, such as staggering, circling or foaming at the mouth.
For the most part, said Huckery, bad animal behavior can easily be corrected by good human behavior.
“It’s as simple as keeping your pets in or supervising them,” she said.
Taking simple precautions such as cleaning up bird feeders or locking up trash can also keep away raccoons, skunk or other pesky creatures, Huckery said.
“People have a lot of control over what critters end up in their yard or not,” she said.
They may be cute, but they’re still wild
Rupley admitted that she has grown attached to the foxes and worries about the coyotes and fishers that frequent the area, as well as the cars that speed past her driveway.
“I worry about them, I worry about the road, but that’s nature,” she said. “They’re going to learn.”
The best time to see the kits is at dusk, said Rupley, when the kits wake up and start playing together.
“There’s one kit that seems less afraid of people,” she said. “He just sits right there and looks at me, just like a puppy.”
The kits have even gotten comfortable with the family dog, an old yellow lab named Taffy.
“They bark at Taffy,” said Rupley with amazement, “They’re now part of the family here, just part of the farm.”
For Rupley, remembering that the foxes are wild animals often proves difficult.
“I get that thinking of feeding them,” she said, “And then I say, ‘No, no, no, I’m not going to do that.’ It’s not good for them, and it’s not good for us. They’re wild — even though they’re cute, they’re wild.”
Keeping wildlife wild is one of MassWildlife’s primary concerns, said Huckery.
“Generally it’s the humans that have trouble keeping their distance,” she said, “Especially when it’s a cute fuzzy creature like a fox.”
The key, said Huckery, is to not let the animals get habituated to your presence. “Keep a very respectable distance and do not give them any food,” she said.
Like proud parents, the Rupleys have generously shared their treasured foxes — from a safe distance — with friends and family, and in a way, said Jane, the foxes have brought the neighborhood together.
“I like to see my neighbors you know? We all tend to live in our own worlds,” she said.