A recent video posted to the United States Fish & Wildlife Service Facebook page serves as a great example of a super-classic canid hunting method.

The short clip, taken by J. Giles, shows a coyote "mousing" along a roadway in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the Texas Gulf Coast, but you could see something virtually identical watching a jackal snuffing out rats in African scrub or an Arctic fox after lemmings on snow-crusted tundra.


 

Roads as well as hiking paths, game trails and other thoroughfares provide good hunting corridors for coyotes, foxes and other carnivores: the paved or cleared bed masks the hunter's footfalls from keen-eared rodents, which tend to be attracted to the thick fringing groundcover.

In the clip, you can see the coyote cocking its head this way and that with perked ears, trying to zero in on its quarry's little rustlings. Research on captive red foxes has shown the nearly pinpoint accuracy with which they can locate such sounds.

The high pounce the coyote performs is characteristic of canids trying to catch burrowing rodents: you'll see foxes, jackals and even wolves do it. (Adult grey wolves sometimes "mouse" in a sort of offhand way, probably because a mouse or vole is a mere morsel for a carnivore of their size and not worth expending a lot of time and energy on. Wolf pups, though, often pounce on rodents around their rendezvous sites.) The dive-bombing approach helps catch quick-scampering prey by surprise, and also gives the mousing canid the opportunity to redirect its landing in midair to cut off a rodent's dash.

Here's a red fox mousing in a mowed field:

Grasshoppers and other insects provide good training targets for kits and pups honing their skills in acoustic triangulation and high-angled springing.

The "mouse pounce" is most impressive when executed in deep snow. Foxes and coyotes will key into a rodent skittering under the snowpack, leap high, then plunge muzzle- and forepaw-first to break through the crust and pin their subnivean prey – or, if the first strike misses, perhaps trap it in a caved-in snow tunnel.

Foxes – the most catlike of canids – are perhaps the champion pouncers of the bunch. Biologist J. David Henry has measured leaps of 7.6 meters (25 feet) by red foxes mousing along the downhill flanks of trails – a common practice of theirs, likely because gravity helps expand their aerial coverage.

A 2011 study from the Czech Republic that observed hundreds of hunts by 84 red foxes suggested the canids preferentially align their mousing jumps along a northeasterly axis. The researchers proposed this directional dedication, which corresponded to significantly greater hunting success, might mean a mousing fox somehow references the magnetic field of the Earth: potentially using it, as Ed Yong summarised in a National Geographic blog, "as a 'rangefinger', to estimate the distance to its prey and make a more accurate pounce."

(Red foxes use different strategies when after tree squirrels and songbirds: stalking close, then making a headlong rush and horizontal lunge to try to snatch their prey before it reaches the safety of a treetrunk or takes flight.)

The cocked-head, pricked-ears, high-pounce mousing routine may be defining canid behaviour, but there's a feline out there that performs equally impressive choreography on the hunt. The serval famously backs up its outsized, ultra-acute ears with an extravagant spring: a superb combination for nabbing mice, rats and other small critters in tall grass. A serval's pounce may be three metres (ten feet) off the ground. Like a fox or coyote, the cat pins its victim with its forepaws before delivering the killing bite:

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Top header image: Pixabay