This is the time of the year when I often see red foxes, swiftly jaywalking across busy urban/suburban streets or unfortunately dead beside the road. I have an affection for them. It is something about their intelligence, sleek good looks, and incognito behavior that fascinate me. And they just seem so darn cool.
Our Foxy Neighbors
Red foxes are found all over the northern hemisphere, from North America to the Arctic Circle to well into Central America. They are also found in Northern Africa, Europe, and temperate parts of Asia.
Foxes are often mistaken for a domesticated dog. They are in the same Canine family as dogs, coyotes, and wolves.
They don’t mind being around humans and often live in heavily populated urban and suburban areas. Several times friends have told me they watched these mammals running and cavorting in their backyards only to realize they were watching foxes not dogs. In the summer of 2022, foxes were caught on camera stealing shoes (CBS.com).
Red foxes are mostly nocturnal and also active at dawn and dusk and are rarely seen by the humans they live around. They are swift runners and swim well. I bet they have swam in deserted swimming pools.
Their super powers consist of extremely sharp senses of sight, smell, and hearing. They can hear a mouse squeak 150 feet away.
Red Fox Scientific Classifications
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Common name: Red fox
Scientific name: Vulpes vulpes
Male: dog fox
Autumn is a Good Time to See Red Foxes
At this time of year, young red foxes often strikeout to find their own territories away from their siblings and parents. They need space to hunt and feed and too many individuals in a small area often won’t find enough to eat.
Native or Imported Species?
For awhile scientists and naturalists thought that the red foxes here in eastern North America were the descendants of imported English red foxes. Apparently, Americans wanting to emulate the English landed aristocracy imported red foxes to use as prey in fox hunts.
Genetic studies confirm that the red foxes in the east are not the same strain as European red foxes. The imported red foxes died out without a trace. All the red foxes you see on the east coast are indigenous.
Red Fox Appearance
Red Foxes have long rusty orange-red fur that is slightly darkened on the back. They have black ears, legs and feet, and a long, bushy, white-tipped tail.
This fox (Vulpes vulpes) is 22-25 inches in length, with an additional 14- to 16-inch tail, and weighs 8-12 pounds. Foxes look like they are heavier than these weights, an impression created by their full, thick fur.
Red foxes aren’t all red. There are many color or fur variations within the species. Dramatic color variations may occur in individuals, although these are rare and show up more often in the species’ northern range, especially in Canada.
These color variations include: the “cross fox,” with a dark stripe of hair extending from the head down the center of the back and transected by another dark stripe over the shoulders, thus forming a cross-like shape; the “black fox,” a melanistic red fox; and the “silver fox,” simply a black individual with white-tipped guard hairs giving a frosted appearance.
The red fox always has a white tail tip, no matter the color phase or shade of red fur (which also varies slightly in individual animals).
Things you need to know about red foxes – Youtube Video
Places to Live
Red foxes live in sparsely settled, rolling farm areas with wooded tracts, marshes and streams, parks, cemeteries, rail yards, urban and suburban areas throughout North America.
Foxes like to sleep in the open at night but during the day under vegetative cover, under a porch or in a den. In the winter they sleep out in the open with their busy tails circled over their noses for warmth.
What Red Foxes Eat
Part of the red foxes’ survival success comes from the animals ability to find and eat a wide variety of food. They are scavengers. The eat what they can find including road-killed animals and winter kills.
These canines also eat mice, rats, rabbits, woodchucks, opossums, porcupines, domestic cats, chickens, insects, squirrels, game birds, songbirds, bird eggs, fruits and grasses. The cache (store) their uneaten food by burying it in loose earth.
Places to Raise Young
The foxes give birth and raise young in dens in the ground. The holes they use are groundhog burrows that they enlarge. They create several entrances to their dens. They also raise young in hollow logs.
It’s quite common for the parents to rear their young in heavily populated areas. As long as the area has plentiful food and shelter.
The young kits (pups) are born after 51-day gestation period. A litter can number from 4 to 10 kits, with six being the average number. The kits are born with their eyes closed for the first 8 to 10 days after birth. Their mother nurses them for about a month before they emerge from the den.
Both the mother and father fox feed the kits solid food. The kits are weaned from nursing at two to three months of age.
It’s in July and August that we seen the new kits emerge from their dens. The kits are taught to hunt and search for food by their parents. About September the family group disbands and the young go their own way to establish their own territories. September and October is when I typically see foxes trotting across roads.
Once the young foxes reach ten months of age they are sexually mature and ready to breed. Foxes often breed during their first winter. In late winter, foxes can be heard barking at night, making their presence known to members of the opposite sex. Breeding usually takes place in February.
Red Fox Conservation
Red foxes have adapted well to urban and suburban human habitats. Except for the breeding season these animals are solitary and can live very close to humans and still go unnoticed.
They can live in parks and wooded areas. Their ability to eat a wide range of food helps their survival.
Their populations are affected by availability of food, habitat suitability, coyote predation and hunting and trapping pressure.
Study Foxes using the Grinnell Scientific Nature Journal Method
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Having Trouble with Foxes?
The Humane Society answers questions on, “What to Do about Foxes“, that den in your yard or if you are worried about rabies or other diseases.
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Elbroch, Mark, and Kurt Rinehart. Behavior of North American Mammals. The Peterson Reference Guide Series. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011. Out of print, limited availability