Neighborhood Critters – Foxes

Neighborhood Critters

Winter 2001 TrunkLine – Foxes

 

While many people are surprised to find foxes in urban settings, they are well adapted for city life.  Of the five fox species found in North America, only the red and gray are town dwellers, and one of these inhabits most cities.

Physical Characteristics: Foxes are small animals, but may appear larger due to their stature and bushy tails.  The red fox weighs 7-15 pounds and reaches 3 feet in length plus another 18 inches of tail.  It is highly unusual for a gray fox to exceed12 pounds.  Since red-colored foxes are not always “red foxes” and likewise for gray foxes, look for a white tip on the tail to identify the red fox.

Personality Profile:  Foxes are related to dogs, but sometimes behave like cats.  Gray foxes can even climb trees.  It appears that foxes are not naturally nocturnal, but often adopt this behavior to avoid people.  When feeling secure with an escape route, foxes will just as likely be active during the day.

Habitat: Foxes prefer varied habitats with fields, woods and shrubby cover, so adapt well to urban parklands, mixed suburban developments and golf courses.  Typical den sites are burrows, rock formations, hollow logs or trees, and brush piles. Dens are often lined with grass, leaves, or shredded bark.

Diet: Foxes are quite capable hunters that eat rats, mice, rabbits, squirrels, birds, snakes, fish, and insects.  Their diet includes eggs, berries, nuts, grapes, apples, seeds, corn, and fruits like persimmons.  They also enjoy pet food.

Getting Along: People are sometimes fearful upon discovering foxes in their neighborhoods.  In reality, foxes pose no threats to humans except if rabid (very rare) or if being handled by captors.  Even then, their nature to flee rather than fight causes the fox to reserve biting as a last resort.

Foxes ignore cats, but small pets such as kittens, guinea pigs and rabbits or poultry left outside unprotected may fall prey to a hungry fox.  In a pinch, foxes may make dens under decks, patios or outbuildings.  If this happens at your house, be tolerant until the young are old enough to follow parents on nightly hunts.  Check to make sure no babies were left behind, and then obstruct the entrance to the makeshift den.  If you really need the fox family to move sooner, leave something with a human scent such as smelly socks or sneakers in the area.  Conflict between foxes and people are so few, that they are rarely characterized as problem animals.  So, the next time you see a fox taking a shortcut through your yard, be grateful for free rodent control.

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