Dedicated Dads of the Animal Kingdom

© Fox and Pups by David Johnson
© Fox and Pups by David Johnson

Red Fox

Red Fox dads may be some of the best teachers in nature. They are attentive to their mate and offspring, living in the female’s den for the first month after birth. As the female fox won’t leave the den in order to feed the pups and keep them warm. It’s Dad’s job to bring food for the family, venturing out for food about every six hours.

Once the pups have matured, it’s time to play! Dad teaches the pups how to hunt and scavenge — sometimes even hiding food under leaves and twigs to teach them how to sniff out the tasty morsels. The male fox will also play “ambush” to teach them how to escape from predators.

Sometimes Dad’s teachings take the “tough love” approach — fox parents will often reduce food as the pups get older as a means of encouraging the pups to fend for themselves.

© Peregrine Falcon by Herb Chong

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine dads attract their mates with a display of acrobatics, and together the nesting pair will make their nest, or eyrie, high on on cliffs or man-made structures like skyscrapers or bridges. Typically, the male will select a few possible ledges for a nest and the female will choose one from these. Nest building involves both Peregrines scraping the nest site to create a depression on the ledge for their eggs.

While the female incubates the eggs, the male Peregrine will bring food to its mate. Once the chicks hatch both parents will share the hunting duties almost evenly —impressively catching food in mid air and bringing it back to their brood.

Giant Water Bug

© Giant Water Bug by Anna Harrod

A Giant Water Bug may not be the first creature that comes to mind when you think of a dedicated father, but in the insect world, the male Giant Water Bug wins the “best dad award” as it becomes the primary caregiver for the brood. Once a pair has mated, the female will “glue” up to 150 or more eggs to the male’s back, making the family mobile — no minivan required!

The male water bug will protect the eggs until they hatch, keeping them clean and dry to avoid parasites and mold. Since the male is mobile this means that they can more easily escape predators. Water bug eggs can triple in size within a few weeks, so the male will stop eating before they hatch to avoid eating the offspring. A male water bug can hatch up to three clutches of eggs in one season.

© Brendan Lally/Wikimedia Commons

Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned owl dad take on a lot of responsibility in providing for its mate the owlets. A male will attract a mate with a distinctive “hoot-a-hoot; hoo-hoo” or “who’s awake? me too.” Great Horned owls are powerful and aggressive when hunting — for houses or prey. They don’t build nests of their own, instead a pair will seek out the bests of squirrels or hawks, or find a hollow tree stumps — sometimes evicting the current resident in the process. They may then line their newly-found home with feathers plucked from their own breast or the fur and feathers from their prey.

The female lays a clutch of two or three eggs in late-winter, they must be incubated constantly. So, it’s father owl’s job to keep the female fed, bringing meals of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and fish back to the nest. Once the owlets are born, they are unable to regulate their own body temperature for the first few weeks. The female will stay to keep the owlets warm and Dad will keep hunting to feed himself, the larger female and newborn owlets. After about a month, the female can leave the nest and the pair will share hunting duties.

With over 8,000 acres on the Shawangunk Ridge, Mohonk Preserve is the largest member and visitor-supported nature preserve in New York State.