Wild animals are part of what makes nature so magical, and watching them can be highly enjoyable. While it’s important to coexist with animals in relative peace, they can cause countless problems when they take up residence in our homes or gardens. In this series, our Wildlife Management Specialist, Shawn Weeks, will educate us about some common household pests, and share some strategies for keeping them under control without dangerous chemicals or poisons.
This month we’ll look at Vulpes vulpes, better known as the red fox.
History and Habitat:
Red fox were at one time native to North America. However, during the mid 1700’s, the European red fox was introduced to North America, and today’s red fox is a hybrid of the two species. The red fox has an elongated snout, a long bushy tail with a white tip that is carried horizontally, and pointed ears. It has a reddish-orange coat with a white underside, black feet, and the back of its ears are black. Red fox weigh between eight and fifteen pounds, and males are slightly heavier. Their length ranges from 39-44 inches.
The red fox occurs throughout much of North America, from Canada and Alaska to the southern United States. It is not found in the American Southwest, including California and the surrounding states.
The red fox prefers a mixture of forest and open fields. Because the red fox is an opportunistic species, they tend to do extremely well in urban and suburban areas. Though they often sleep during the day, the red fox is not strictly nocturnal, so it is not uncommon to see one during the day.
The vocalizations of the red fox vary from short barks or yaps to a combination of yells, long howls, and screeches.
Red fox usually make their home by improving abandoned dens left behind by woodchucks, badgers or other burrowing animals. They are also known to dig their own dens, and almost always have more than one so they can to move their young if they are disturbed or in danger. They can also rest under fallen logs and brush piles in a pinch.
The red fox’s diet consists of birds and eggs, insects, fruits, chipmunks, rabbits, woodchucks, voles, mice, amphibians, reptiles, carrion and garbage (the latter being one reason they do so well in urban and suburban areas). They mostly kill their prey and bring it to their den to feed, though the red fox is also sometimes known for burying their prey with dirt, mud, leaves and snow. They then urinate on the area to mark it, then return later to feed.
Young are born usually in March or April, with a gestation period of fifty one to fifty three days. Their litters average four to five young. The young are known as pups or kits. After four to five weeks, the pups emerge from the den to play. They are weaned at about twelve weeks, at which point they begin to hunt for food with their parents. In the fall, the young disperse to find their own range, and usually breed during their first winter
Problems, Solutions and Health Concerns:
A healthy adult fox does not generally pose a threat to humans or show aggression towards humans. As with all wildlife, though, one should not approach a fox, and should always stay attentive to children when outside, especially when it’s known that fox, or other large mammals occur in the area. Red fox commonly live among humans, and have become accustomed to our presence.
Fox sometimes prey on smaller livestock such as chickens, ducks, and rabbits. They will also prey on cats. Make sure your animals are secured, especially at night when most predation occurs. They generally do not bother large livestock. You can protect your livestock by securing pens, cages, hutches, coops and fencing. Remember, red fox are canines, making them excellent diggers. Make sure fencing is secure along the bottom, and consider trenching to bury the bottom part of the fence. Be sure to secure and tighten up the tops of fences, too, as they will climb over ones that are sagging or droopy.
Large dogs can help keep red fox away from your property. Make sure, however, to always accompany your pets when they are outside, unless they are specially trained to protect property and livestock. Make sure to also keep pet and livestock food secure, meat scraps from compost piles and dead, fallen fruit from fruit trees and bushes cleaned up.
Millions of dollars annually are made from red fox pelts. Their fur is full, thick and silky, as opposed to that of the gray fox, which is thin and coarse. Hunting and trapping fox are some popular management tools for regulating populations. If done in season, and following local laws, it can also offer great recreational and financial opportunities for hunters and trappers.
The red fox can carry diseases such as rabies, mange, and distemper. Animals that appear sick or acting abnormal should be avoided at all costs. The following symptoms could be a sign of a sick animal: disorientation, lack of coordination, unusually friendly behavior, unprovoked aggression, impaired movement, and paralysis.
The red fox is a beautiful animal that is usually timid towards humans and will avoid contact with us when it can. They are fun to watch, especially if you are lucky enough to observe one interacting with its young outside a den site, or to catch one in pursuit of a mouse or a chipmunk. But remember, they are wild animals and should always be treated with respect, and from a comfortable distance. For the most part, we can live in harmony with red fox, but we need to be proactive with our property maintenance and prevention.