When you think of Chicago nightlife, the many restaurants and clubs of downtown Chicago probably come to mind. However, the scientists in the zoo’s Urban Wildlife Institute are interested in a different sort of nightlife. We study the wildlife that live in urban areas, and many of these animals are nocturnal, meaning that they are mostly active at night. To learn about these animals, we use motion-triggered wildlife cameras that can use a night-vision flash to take pictures after dark without disturbing the animals.
I recently deployed such a camera to see what sort of nocturnal animals were visiting Nature Boardwalk at Lincoln Park Zoo at night. One of the most exciting things I saw on film was the elusive gray fox, pictured here. These pictures were taken at 10 p.m., long after all the human visitors had left the area.
Gray foxes are one of several species of carnivores that live in urban areas and seem to generally stay out of peoples’ way. They live under the radar by hunkering down in the daytime and being active at night. Gray foxes stick to a diet mostly consisting of rabbits and rodents, although they will also eat berries and fruits. One interesting bit of trivia is that gray foxes are the only canines in North America that can climb trees.
Gray foxes are beautiful creatures. When I see pictures of them, I always think that they manage to simultaneously look both like a cat and a dog. They weigh 5–14 pounds and have luxurious bushy tails with a black tip. This black tip is probably the easiest way to tell a red fox from a gray fox.
It is rare to see a gray fox in this area, making it a special treat to see it on camera.