Storytime 43

large patch of white fur on trail
I happened across this little scene several weeks back, and it remained in place for quite a long time – as far as I know, some of it still remains. It was found directly on the trail around the nearby pond, and is very likely evidence that some mammal met its end at the teeth of a predator, also likely a mammal; I’d lean towards a fox dispatching a rabbit, myself, but this isn’t just a guess.

First off, there was a lot of white fur – more than most wild animals in the area have, since most display it only on their bellies. The exception is a white-tailed deer; while still only on the underside, there’s a significant expanse of underside, enough to produce this size patch. However, two things steer my thoughts away from this. The first is, deer hair is a little wiry, pretty stiff, and this was remarkably soft. The second point is, there were no other remains to be found at all, and anything that could take down a deer is likely to leave behind something, usually a few very noticeable bones at the least, to say nothing of any of the brown hair that serves as the primary coat. The texture of the fur indicated likely a rabbit, and because of the amount of it, I’m inclined to say either an escaped all-white domestic rabbit, or a wild albino.

But could a hawk or some other raptor have been the responsible party? It seems unlikely, because the patch was very localized, as seen. Prey that is eaten in the low branches of a tree tends to leave behind tufts and clumps that scatter a little, spotted here and there, and even prey that is eaten on the ground (semi-rare, because the raptor is vulnerable then,) still often sports other remains – hawks have sharp beaks so they can slice off what they need, and often leave the larger bones behind. I remember a distinctive find in the common area of my apartment complex, many years back: a pair of bird legs, pigeon-sized, still attached to the bloody pelvic girdle, with nothing else but a couple of scattered feathers to be found. It seemed odd to find nothing else, until I realized I was standing near the base of a light pole – the hawk (sharpshin or Cooper’s, which are both bird-eating accipiters,) had probably consumed its meal atop the light fixture, and my find was one of the discarded fragments.

Foxes, however, possess the size to completely consume a rabbit, and the habits to hork down most if not all of it, bones included. Few species can digest hair, so this is often torn away while eating, but rabbits also have easy-to-shed hair that helps them escape predators, so at the scene of a tussle it’s very common to find tufts even if the rabbit escaped. Given the mass of hair, though, I doubt it escaped in this case.

Something other than a fox? Possible, sure, but there aren’t a lot of choices around here. I’ve never seen any stray dogs at all, day or night, and a cat isn’t big enough to eat an entire rabbit, and sometimes not even completely eat a juvenile. We don’t have bobcats in the area. There’s a chance of a coyote – they’re within the region, but this is a pretty urbanized area and I have yet to hear any calls, much less see any. But I’ve seen foxes several times.

So while there’s nothing that can be proved, there’s a decent probability that we know what happened here, mostly just by knowing a few traits about wildlife. I’m open to other suggestions, however.