CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Game and Fish Department Laramie Region shared a video on Aug. 10 which captured an encounter between a prairie falcon and a swift fox in the Shirley Basin.
“Non-game biologist technician Carissa Turner recorded this video of a prairie falcon defending its nest from a swift fox in the Shirley Basin,” Game & Fish said in explaining the video. “Turner believes the falcon had an active nest nearby and the fox got a bit too close for comfort.”
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department shared the following video on their Youtube channel:
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The swift fox is uncommon in Wyoming, but “is widely distributed across suitable habitat in the state and may be locally abundant, especially in Laramie County,” Game and Fish says.
“Range-wide, swift fox populations started to decrease in the 1800s due to widespread habitat conversion and loss and poisoning campaigns targeting coyotes,” the department adds. “Swift fox populations started recovering in the 1950s following changes in poisoning regulations.”
The swift fox was petitioned to be listed as an endangered species in 1992.
“A ‘warranted but precluded’ finding was issued in 1995,” Game & Fish add. “In 2001 that finding was changed to ‘not warranted’ based on new information that suggested swift fox was more abundant and widespread and had greater flexibility in habitat and food requirements than originally thought.”
Distinguishing features of the swift fox include the following, according to Game and Fish:
- small stature
- black-tipped tail
- black spots on the side of the snout
“It is the smallest canid species in the United States (adults 1.8–2.9 kg),” the department adds. “Although males are larger than females, the sexes have similar coloring In winter the coat is dark buffy gray on the back; yellow-tan on the sides and legs; and pale yellow to white on the throat, chest,
and belly. In summer the fur is shorter and redder in appearance.”
“Kit Fox is easily confused with Swift Fox where they overlap, but Wyoming supports only Swift Fox. In Wyoming, Swift Fox may be confused with Red Fox (V. vulpes), but Red Fox can be distinguished by a larger size, white-tipped tail, and black legs. Very young Coyotes (Canis latrans) may also occasionally be mistaken for Swift Fox.”
Game and Fish describe the swift fox as “an opportunistic predator” with the following diet:
- scavenged pronghorn as a common food source in Wyoming
“Swift Fox is known to cache excess food under the snow in the winter months,” the department adds.
The National Audubon Society says that the prairie falcon “has undoubtedly declined in some developed areas, but current population [is] probably stable.”
“The Prairie Falcon is nearly the size of the famous Peregrine, but differs in its hunting behavior, often pursuing small prey with rapid, maneuverable flight close to the ground,” Audubon says. “Although it is characteristic of desolate plains and desert wilderness, this falcon has also adapted to altered landscapes: in winter, it is often seen flying over southwestern cities, or hunting Horned Larks in farm country.”
The prairie falcon tends to nest in recessed sites along cliff ledges, dirt banks, abandoned raven or hawk nests and rarely in trees, according to Audubon.
Females typically lays between 3-5 eggs which Audubon says are “whitish” and “spotted with brown.”
“Incubation is mostly by female, about 31 days,” ‘Audubon adds. “Male brings food to incubating female, and he may sit on eggs temporarily while she is eating.”
“Female remains with young for about the first 4 weeks; male brings food, and female feeds it to young. After 4 weeks, female may do some hunting. Young leave the nest at about 5-6 weeks after hatching.”
The diet of the prairie falcon includes mainly small birds and mammals, according to Audubon:
“Often will focus on one abundant and easily caught prey species at a time,” Audubon adds. “May feed heavily on ground squirrels in early summer, shifting to young songbirds when many are fledging; in winter, may feed on common flocking birds like Horned Lark. Many other species eaten, up to size of grouse and jackrabbits; also lizards, insects.”