Fox Scat: the scoop on poop

On a Bruce Trail hike I came across a small mound of freshly deposited fox scat.

June 30, 2016 | | Blogs

Take a moment to ponder poop. It’s not a topic for polite dinner conversation, but the fact that poop is the end result of dinners makes it something scientists love to dig into. Poop (aka scat) tells them what animals eat.

Case in point: Biologists recently sifted through decades of layered chimney swift droppings in a Queen’s University chimney stack. Among their remarkable finds was that prior to DDT the swifts fed on lots of big beetles – beetles that subsequently succumbed to DDT, forcing the swifts onto a slimming diet of smaller insects.

Paleontologists like poop as well. In their parlance, fossilized dinosaur turds are called “coprolites”. Believe it or not, examining these coprolites provides evidence of what T-Rex and friends ate.

I recently had an opportunity to play poop detective myself. On a Bruce Trail hike I came across a small mound of freshly deposited fox scat. I hesitated for a moment and then decided to poke the poop.

My first discovery was rough skin, tinted yellow. I thought snake at first, but then I found a raptor claw and realized the skin came from the foot pad of a bird.

Now that was interesting. The fox had eaten a small hawk or owl. But there was more. My next discovery was the clawed foot of a songbird – a blue jay or robin perhaps.

A scenario began to take shape. I speculated that a Cooper’s hawk or a sharp-shinned hawk – raptors that commonly attack other birds – had caught a songbird and had begun to eat it. These hawks often eat prey on the ground, probably because it’s easier than carrying it aloft to a perch.

You’ve guessed the rest. The hawk, busy with its meal, is surprised by a fox. The fox gets the hawk and, as a bonus, the hawk’s prey.

And to think my first inclination was to leave the poop unexamined!

*Fox photo by Ian Jarvie.

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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