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Sounds in the Night

Bayou-Diversity (2 September 2018) When people experience intense emotions such as fright or awe, they often remark that they feel their hair standing on end. Startling night sounds that emit from our local forest lands are sometimes a source of these involuntary chillbumps. Owls, especially barred owls with their wild screams and hoots, have sent many a novice outdoorsman packing. There is one species of local mammal though that can hold his own with owls when it comes to nocturnal caterwauling. At my house in the woods they begin tuning up mostly during their winter breeding season. A sudden explosive burst of harsh, coughing barks evokes images of mythological hellhounds and this coming from the vicinity of my compost pile that I often visit after dark. The origin of this racket is known by his Latin scientific name as Urocyon cinereoargenteus, which translates to silvery, gray-tailed dog. We know them as gray fox. Weighing an average of 14 pounds, it's hard to believe that such a volume of noise can be produced by such a small animal. Gray fox are found throughout Louisiana except the coastal marshes and prefer upland habitats of mixed pine/hardwood forests. They are primarily carnivorous and relish rats, mice, rabbits, and insects but also consume acorns, berries and other wild fruits when available. The slightly larger red fox is a close cousin and is sometimes found in the same habitat. Both species are esteemed quarry in the declining sport of fox hunting. Unlike red fox, grays can climb trees to forage and escape predators. At one time most people in this area who lived in the country raised poultry to the delight of the gray fox. No longer a major nemesis, his connection to poultry today is via the goosebumps caused by his otherworldly clamor.


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