A Gray Fox Takes On Wild Turkeys

At the end of December and just before the new year, I chanced upon an unusual midday drama. It was a cloudy wet day, and I was at the north end of the valley to check on the flooding in the wetland area. As I was walking west towards our inner gate, I noticed there was a flock of Wild Turkeys acting a bit weird. They were walking slowly towards a small ash tree with their necks stretched all the way out, as though they were trying to investigate something that was out of place. Through my binoculars, since it was about 200 feet away, I could just make out a small furry mammal at the base of the tree. It was a beautiful California gray fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus, and as I watched it seemed to walk straight up the trunk of the tree into the branches.

As stated in Wikipedia,

“The gray fox is specifically adapted to climb trees. Its strong, hooked claws allow it to scramble up trees to escape many predators, such as the domestic dog or the coyote, or to reach tree-bound or arboreal food sources. It can climb branchless, vertical trunks to heights of 18 meters and jump from branch to branch. It descends primarily by jumping from branch to branch, or by descending slowly backwards like a domestic cat..”

It was such a great opportunity to see this behavior for myself, and I attempted to capture it on camera. The fox appeared to be preparing to pounce from the tree onto a turkey. It was apparent to me that the fox was outnumbered and much smaller than most of the turkeys in the flock. At one point it seemed to hang over the limb staring down at the turkeys. Then one of the female hen turkeys flew up into the tree. That’s when everything changed, and I watched the fox back down the branch and around to the other side of the tree out of sight. The turkeys followed around to the back side of the tree as the fox darted out away from them. It was a chase as the whole flock ran after it towards the fence line. I saw a last glimpse of the fox as it fled into a giant bramble of Himalayan blackberry on the other side of the fence. The turkeys stopped abruptly and after a few moments of peering into the berry bushes, they calmly resumed their foraging barely paying me or the fleeing fox any mind.

It was a wonderful experience to see the drama between the gray fox and the Wild Turkeys. It reminded me of a story I had recently heard about a flock of Tom (males) Wild Turkeys that had cornered and were harassing a coyote until the coyote fled. Wild Turkeys are not afraid to defend themselves against predators and will fight together against a threat. This behavior is one of the many reasons that the Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo, has been so successful at adapting to many environments in California.