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Erika the Red

erika the red

Erika the Red is our new racing greyhound bitch We do have a litter planned for later this year, and the puppies will be available for sporting homes.

We picked her up at Wheeling Island yesterday,, and with greyhound racing fading away, we’re going to try to keep these lines alive for the future.

She is a very gentle dog. Think giant whippet, and you’ll come close to describing her.

She gets along with all the whippets. Poet wants her BAD. And the Static thinks she is his mommy.

 

 

Just a fox on a leash

Clive out for a snowy stroll.

clive on a leash

snuggly clive

dusky grouse hen

Dusky grouse hen.

Hybridization between animal species is a topic that has long fascinated me. I’ve been looking at various animal hybrids over the years, and some are really quite shocking. Marine mammals produce all sorts of weird hybrids, as do birds, and in it is in the avian world that I came across the strangest hybrid.

Only a few of these hybrids have ever been reported, but a few hybrids between “blue grouse” and common pheasants have been reported.  I should note that these “blue grouse” and pheasant hybrids have mostly been documented before the molecular revolution in biology and no DNA studies have ever provided proof that these weird birds were indeed hybrids between the two species.

Also, these hybrids were described before the “blue grouse” was split into the dusky and sooty grouse. The dusky and sooty grouse are estimated to have last shared a common ancestor 240,000 years ago and have been given distinct species. The sooty grouse (Dendragapus fuliginosus) is found in conifer forests along the Pacific Coast from the Yukon to California, while the dusky grouse  (D. obscurus) is found at similar forests in the interior mountains of the West.

These grouse are highly specialized to life in conifer forests. The breeding behavior of both species of grouse involves the cockbirds hooting from way up at the top of big conifers to draw in hens.

Compare this bird with the common or “ring-necked” pheasant (Phasianus colchicus). This is an introduced gamebird that, although found in Western Europe, is native from the Caucasus into East Asia. This a grassland species that has social and breeding behavior that is quite similar to domestic chicken. Indeed, these birds are quite closely related to the jungle fowl of South Asia, and sterile hybrids between chickens and pheasants are not uncommon.

The common pheasant is a grassland specialist. This bird was heavily introduced to the Midwestern and Eastern US as a gamebird, and now that the forests have largely taken over vast swathes of farmland, the birds are far less common. For example, West Virginia now allows only a single male pheasant to be taken every day during the pheasant season, while Ohio allows only two for the daily bag limit.

So pheasants are a creature of the grassland and dusky and sooty grouse are creatures of the big conifer forest, it is quite surprising that these two birds would ever encounter each other, much less make a hybrid.

One hybrid was described in 1955. It was likely the result of game farm pheasants crossing with a dusky grouse in Eastern Washington State:

hybrid blue grouse and pheasant

So by 1955, four these hybrids have been documented. However, this discovery was documented at roughly the same time Watson and Crick discovered DNA, and no one had any way to confirm this hybrid origin using molecular techniques. I have not heard of any other hybrids between these two species since this one from Spokane County, Washington.

These forest grouse and these grassland pheasants are so distinct from each other. However, I do know from my own observation of gallinaceous birds that the males of these species are pretty amorous. They will try to hump whatever they can, and a female pheasant sort of looks a lot like a dusky grouse hen.

My guess is this specimen described in the 1950s was the result of a male dusky grouse mating with a farmed pheasant. Only one poult managed to hatch out from the mating, but the poult imprinted upon its  pheasant mother. When it went looking for others of its kind, it wandered over to pheasant farm and tried to join what looked and sounded like its mother.

These hybrids are not something that one would expect to see in nature, but because man is constantly breeding and stocking pheasants to fit the needs of hunters, there could always be a chance for some intrusion of the pheasant into what is really much more suitable sooty or dusky grouse habitat.

Grouse and pheasants are not that closely related to each other either, but avian hybrids have been documented between species of quite unrelated lineages on a fairly regular basis.

 

 

clive being playful

So when we had Clive out today he urinated a few times outdoors, including up against a tree trunk of one the silver maples in front of the house.

I made dinner this evening, and we had a boarding client who was coming to pick up her dog. Jenna took the client dog out for one last good walk about an hour after the sun set.

She came running back in the house telling me that she could smell red fox urine very strongly, and after careful examination, we noticed red fox tracks coming from across the road into our front lawn.

Clive is never taken near the road. He attracts too much unwanted attention, and our local conservation officer doesn’t like getting calls about a fox he knows is perfectly permitted and licensed.  Plus, Clive could get spooked and pull his leash loose, and he would probably run into the road and be hit by a car.

So what happened was that a dog fox in the neighborhood caught wind of Clive’s markings around the silver maples.  Last summer, I smelled where a red fox had urinated on one of these trees, as did every single one of our dogs, so I knew they were in the area. But now that we have a tame young male fox, the local breeding male fox is less than impressed with the young upstart leaving those markings on turf.

Clive is attracting the attention of the neighbors. My guess is we’re going to see lots more of their sign and maybe catch a glimpse of them as the late winter red fox mating season winds up.

I doubt that any of the local reds are cross foxes. All the ones I’ve seen in Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania have been the normal phase reds. But the foxes don’t know what color they are. They just operate by their nose and their base instincts.

Clive can never go wild. He’s from a long line of fur farmed foxes, and if he were to be released, he’s so friendly with people that he’d probably be suspected of being rabid and killed on sight.

So here is another aspect of owning a tame fox. The local red foxes don’t really care that much for the tame ones, and virtually everyone in the continental US lives near red foxes. If you bring a tame one into your home, you will be upsetting the locals, and I don’t just mean your human neighbors either.

Playful Clive

We had Clive out today for a bit of fun. These photos should give you an idea of what his general temperament is. He is a total clown.

clive loves his ball

clive pounce

clive pounce 3

cute clive

clive pounce 2

clive on the run

clive teddy bear

ciive sniffing

snowy boy

Whippets on the run

Zoom (cream and white) and Poet (brindle and white) having some fun this morning

whippets on the run

whippets on the run 2

poet in the snow

playing whippets

whippet comparison

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