Ah, the price of cockiness. Get too puffed-up about your one-of-a-kind talents, and sooner or later you'll likely have the air abruptly let out of your balloon.

Exhibit A comes to us from the woodland-creatures realm, where haughtiness can tempt fate in truly high-stakes fashion. Michigan Out-of-Doors TV recently shared a video (h/t Wide Open Spaces) that neatly tucks this life lesson into a little more than a minute.


The clip comes from a resident of Michigan's Bois Blanc Island in Lake Huron. It begins with a Bambi-worthy trio of backyard loiterers: a white-tailed deer, a red fox and a black squirrel – almost assuredly the melanistic phase of eastern grey squirrel, common in this part of North America.

The black squirrel and the fox are fully aware of one another, but the rodent appears to feel secure in its scampering abilities – perhaps running through a mental calculation of its distance to the fox relative to its distance from the nearest tree – and chooses to brazenly forage within a few yards of the carnivore.

This ends up being 100% the wrong move. The fox plays its game well, staying rooted to its place until the squirrel turns its back. Then, the little canine dashes into action and snatches the squirrel before it even has a chance to bolt. Cue squirrel death-squeals and startled deer face (and the mad runaway dashes of other, luckier squirrels in the background).

As Canadian ecologist J. David Henry explains in Red Fox: The Catlike Canine, both tree squirrels and songbirds are coveted but tricky prey for foxes, given their (usual) high level of alertness and, of course, their ability to quickly escape via aerial or arboreal routes. So while foxes actively prowl for the likes of mice and voles, their tries for tree squirrels tend to be more opportunistic and in-the-moment ... like this:

Often, it's a more drawn-out, herky-jerky approach, the fox freezing when the squirrel's facing it and slinking forth when it's turned away. (As Henry notes, a fox after a squirrel – or a bird – is attempting to make itself as inconspicuous as possible, whereas in hunting keen-eared burrowing rodents, it's trying to minimise noise.) Of course, in the Michigan video, the fox doesn't even have to initiate a stalk at all.

Rather than the fancy high pounce foxes perform when mousing, a squirrel-hunting fox usually rushes forward and then pulls off what Henry calls a "horizontal thrust jump", which is what we see in the Bois Blanc Island footage. The feline-esque stop-and-start stalk and the lighting-fast sprint are both attempts by the fox to whittle away the distance to its quarry before the squirrel keys into the danger and hightails it to the closest trunk.

More often than not, a squirrel gets to the safety of the trees before a fox gets to it. But when you combine a patient and fast-thinking fox with a majorly overconfident squirrel, the odds tend to tip in old Reynard's favour.



Top header image: Pixabay