The hunting ecology of arctic foxes (Alopex lagopus) near Cape Churchill, Manitoba

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Bahr, James
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Several aspects of arctic fox hunting ecology were studied during the summers of 1985 and 1986. Pup development was observed at one den during the summer of 1985. Pup development was observed on an ad libitum basis. The pups' rapid behavioural maturation closely paralleled their rapid physical growth. As the pups matured, their responses to stimuli, their repertoire of behaviours and vocalizations, and their activity patterns changed. The pups expanded their repertoire of physical maneuvers as their strength and coordination increased. Physical and behavioural developments led to a maturation of predatory behaviours and skills of self preservation. The hunting ecology and food habits of adult arctic foxes were studied by following male foxes on hunts. Foxes hunted along similar routes each day but did not hunt in the same area twice consecutively. Foxes covered the greatest proportion of their distance and made the greatest proportion of their kills in the habitat that probably harboured the highest prey densities. They used their entire home ranges in June and July even when most Canada geese (Branta canadensis) and snow geese (Chen caerulescens) were concentrated in specific areas after late June. The foxes travelled at an average rate of 5.3 km/h and could cover 25 km or more during a day of hunting. When lemmings (Dicrostonyx groenlandicus) were abundant during 1985, the foxes averaged more attacks, kills and meals per time and per distance than in 1986 when lemmings were less abundant. Overall, the foxes were successful in 87% of capture attempts for lemmings, in 64% of attempts for defended goose nests and in all attempts on shorebird, duck, passerine and ptarmigan nests. In 1985, lemmings accounted for the majority of the adult foxes' diet before goose hatch. Passerine clutches made up most of the remainder and the foxes rarely ate cached food during hunts. In 1986, shorebird eggs and eggs from caches accounted for the majority of the foxes' diet. After goose hatch in both years, goslings and adult geese became important food items but the foxes did not abandon the food sources they utilized before hatch.