Red Fox

Did you know that foxes are part of the dog family known as canids? Wolves and coyotes are also part of the canid family.

Where do foxes live? Red Foxes are the most common species of foxes and are found throughout most of the US and Canada. They live in woodlands and also farm land. Common Gray Foxes are also found in the Border Country and most of the eastern US.

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Did you know that adult foxes usually live alone? Adult red foxes usually live alone except during the mating season in January and February and when raising young. Instead of sleeping in a den, an adult fox usually curls up with its fluffy tail over its nose and feet to protect itself from the cold. In the winter, sometimes the snow will cover them in a blanket which insulates them from the wind and cold weather.

What do red foxes look like? Red foxes range in color from red to gray but most are a reddish brown color. They have a white belly, chin, and throat and a white tipped tail. They weigh between 7 1/2 pounds to 15 pounds. Red foxes are between 35-41 inches long and their long tails are about 13-17 inches long. These foxes are usually around 15 inches tall. Red foxes have long legs for running, sharp teeth and strong jaws for chewing meat. They also have narrower snouts than other canids which allows them to snoop between rocks and bushes to find food. Red foxes are known for being very clever. There are many tales of foxes who managed to out smart the dogs and the hunters by confusing the dogs and making them lose their scent.

When are young foxes born? Young foxes are known as kits and they are born between March and May. Red foxes have between 1-10 kits in each litter. Kits are born in dens that their mother’s make before they are born. A mother fox may use the same den year after year.

What do kits eat? After one month, the kits feed on regurgitated food that their mothers or other females bring back for them. They also start coming up out of the den to play after about one month. The mother starts bringing live prey for the young foxes to enjoy when they begin to grow up. Eventually the kits learn how to hunt by watching their parents.

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What do foxes eat? Red foxes have a varied diet. They do need to eat meat for proper nourishment but they also eat what is available. In the summer, red foxes will eat corn, berries, apples, grasses, acorns, and cherries. During the winter they feed on small mammals such as mice, squirrels, and rabbits. They even eat insects! Beetles, caterpillars, crayfish, and crickets make up about a quarter of all of their food. A red fox will hunt and save some of its food in special hiding places called caches. The fox will remember where it hid the food and go back at a later date to find the food.

How do red foxes hunt? These clever animals have an interesting way of hunting. They have sensitive ears that can detect the low frequency sounds of small animals moving underground or under the snow. When they hear those sounds, they frantically dig up the soil or snow to find the small prey. When red foxes are going after larger prey such as rabbits, they stalk the rabbits and then wait to attack when the rabbit begins to run away.

How long do kits stay with their parents? After 7 months, kits are ready to venture out on their own. The females usually stay close to their birth place but males are known to go as far as 150 miles away!

What are some signs of red fox activity? A good clue to look out for are fox dens which are usually built in old woodchuck or badger dens. Look out for the dens in rock piles, hollow logs, or in stream banks. Red fox droppings are cylindrical, small, and narrow. Their tracks are very similar to a large cat except they have 4 claws that show up in the print. The front prints are just over 2 inches long.

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Did you know that red foxes were introduced to the US in the 1700s? Europeans brought the fox over on ships because they enjoyed hunting them. These foxes bred with native foxes to produce the red fox that we know today. People still go on fox hunts by horse back.

Good news for red foxes! At one time red foxes were trapped extensively for their soft, colorful fur. Since people have become more aware of the fur trade, there is no longer as much demand for fox skins. Red fox numbers are increasing and their territory is also expanding!

Sources Ahlstrom, M.E. 1983. The Foxes. Crestwood House, New York. Arnold, C. 1996. Fox. Morrow Junior Books, New York. Whitaker, J.O.Jr. National Audobon Society field guide to North American mammals. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York.

 

Dave Freeman is the Executive Director of the Wilderness Classroom. Dave and Amy Freeman have traveled over 30,000 miles by kayak, canoe and dogsled through some of the world’s wildest places. National Geographic named the Dave and Amy Adventurers of the Year in 2014.

When the Freemans aren’t on expeditions or conducting school assemblies, they guide canoe, kayak and dogsled trips.

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One Comment

  1. Annette Kohoutek
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

    Last week my husband saw two small red/brown animals with long fluffy tails run across our lawn (we live on the edge of town on a golf course – Fox Run). Today while reading I looked up and out our south window and saw them heading east into a wooded area on the course. I watched them play in the trees for a few minutes and then scamper off across the course. I will be watching for them hoping to capture them in picture. They are amazingly beautiful and fast.

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