The European Red Fox Vulpes vulpes was introduced to Australia in the mid 1880s for recreational hunting. It might have seemed a good idea at a time when there was little regard for its potential impact on native wildlife, but with the wisdom of hindsight it can be seen for what it is … an unmitigated disaster.
I wonder what reaction the first fox released into the bush provoked from the local bird life. Nowadays birds are alert to the danger – as evidenced by the behaviour of a small party of White-winged Choughs that I observed on Friday evening at Green Gully. Initially I was intrigued by the apparently odd behaviour of one chough, as it clambered up a eucalypt, flapping its wings excitedly. That’s when I spotted the fox – busily sniffing the ground – perhaps picking up the scent trail I had left a few minutes earlier. The choughs then made a number of aggressive swoops over the fox, before it spotted me and trotted off.
Ground dwelling birds are especially susceptible to fox predation, one of the reasons that we have lost species such as the Bush Stone-curlew and Grey-crowned Babbler from the Newstead district since the 1970s. Other species, such as the Brown Treecreeper, which nests in small hollows, generally above the ground and the Rainbow Bee-eater which nests in earthen tunnels that are often inaccessible to predators, are doing OK.