Native Spotlight: Red Fox

Native Spotlight: Red Fox

Native Spotlight: Red Fox

I have always wanted a pet fox. Their bushy tail alone begs to be touched and their pointed ears and black socks add to their playfulness.

Foxes seem magical. Somehow disappearing just as I spot them, like a magic act. I have never gotten a good look at a wild fox until a few years ago. I saw them crossing a road at night, disappearing into a field. Then I would hear their bark in the spring. Then there was a big snow.

I moved into my current home that year. It was my first winter on my acreage and the first significant snow. I had just refilled the bird feeders and was enjoying bird antics when my dog growled at some movement across the valley.

On my neighbor’s hilly yard were two red specks.I grabbed my binoculars and watched two red foxes playing in the fresh snow. They rolled, dove into drifts, pounce on one another and gave chase for more than a half hour.

It was the next year I had my best experience with red foxes. My husband and I had just finished hiking a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park and were driving back at our cabin. We saw a large number of cars pulled off the road. Assuming it was herd of elk, I slowed and was amazed to see a family of foxes playing in a front yard. The homeowners were enjoying the show as much as the tourists so we joined the group. I have never seen such joy as that of a playing fox pup. They were oblivious to the attention as their mother watched over them.

I would like to have one in a calmer state curled up on my couch, but seeing the fox pups with their energy I doubt my dog would just watch.

Note: Foxes can carry the disease rabies. Do not approach a fox that seems friendly, active in the daylight or acting strangely. If you see an animal like this please call your local park district and report your sighting.

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes) is a small canine. Most weight 8 to 14 lbs, placing them about even with a house cat. They are a bit larger in build, running 3 feet long and about 2 feet tall.  Red foxes are much bigger than their cousins the Gray Fox. Their small size and light weight makes them seem as if they float on the ground when moving, adding to their mystery.

Most wild foxes are a deep red to yellow coat with a white belly with black legs, but there are other color options. They come in silver (black coats with white guard hairs) and solid black. This coat is extra fluffy, especially in the winter, making the fox seem larger than it actually is.

Red Fox Native RangeWiki-Vulpes vulpes

Red Fox Native Range, image from Wikimedia Commens

While their coat is beautiful, their tail is majestic. They use their tail like a cat.. It is important for balance. They also use it like a dog, for talking with other foxes and to cover the face when cold. Their eyes also share characteristics of the cat. They have the same vertically slit pupils that the house cat has, allowing the fox to see in great detail during the day and at night. Add in the ability to reach 30 mph at a run and you will find you will have little luck sneaking up on a fox.

The red fox survives because of its intelligence and adaptability. Crazy like a fox is not just a phrase, these animals work hard to keep a foothold in human habitat. They have adjusted quickly to human environments, and as a result have not been pushed out like their relatives the wolf. Because of this flexibility, the red fox is found throughout North America, from the Arctic circle and even into Central America. A single fox needs 2-20 square miles of territory depending on the location. They are nocturnal for the most part, but if they feel safe they will hunt in daylight.

Disclaimer: All pictures taken below were from a safe distance with a big camera lens as to not disturb the foxes. 

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Foxes talk like dogs. The answer to ‘what does the fox say’ is varied. They make over 28 different sounds. These sounds range from short yips to long howls. Each fox has a unique voice and other foxes can identify the owner of these howls.

Each fox has a unique voice and other foxes can identify the owner of these howls. Click To Tweet 

In general foxes are solitary. They are not pack animals but will form loose groups. When it comes to mating they can be monogamous, but some male foxes will keep multiple female mates. When this occurs the second female helps to raise the young of the first. These two females will share the same den. Because of this, many fox home ranges have one male and two females. The pups stay with their mothers until autumn. Life can be difficult for a fox and in the wild they only survive for about 3 years (in captivity they have been known to live for 12).


Red Fox Quick Facts

  • Canine standing 2 feet tall and 3 feet long
  • Native to the entire United States, rare in the southwestern states
  • Value: control of rodent species, dispersal of plant seed, food for larger predators, reminder of the joy of life

Red foxes love edge habitats. They roam through old fields, open woodlands, pastures and parks. This love of the open makes them perfect neighbors to humans. These small canines have adapted well to urban sprawl, you may have one living near you right now and most likely don’t know it!

They are found in these edge habitats because that’s where their food is. Red foxes are omnivores and hold a very important place in the food web. They prefer eating rodents and rabbits, keeping the population of these herbivores in check. Without the important services of the fox, we would be up to our ears in mice and chipmunks! They hunt these rodents by sound. Foxes are able to hear low frequency noises made by burrowing creatures and are nimble enough to pull them from their tunnels.

“Red foxes prefer eating rodents and rabbits, keeping the population of these herbivores in check. Without the important services of the fox, we would be up to our ears in mice and chipmunks!”

While they prefer rodents, the fox will also eat birds, amphibian, fruit and carrion. It is in the eating of fruit that they perform another important task. They spread the seeds of plants much like birds do. Red foxes are in turn a food source for larger predators: eagles take cubs and coyotes, gray wolves, bears and mountain lions take adult and young foxes.

Attracting the red fox into your backyard is easy if you focus on bringing in their prey species. Provide shrubs for cover and plant fruit and seed bearing plants. Leave an open area for play (they love edge habitat). Don’t forget a water source and a brush pile and one day you may see a bushy tail dance across your yard.

Suggested Native Shrubs and Trees for Attracting Red Foxes

Northwest Salmonberry, Rosa spp., Huckleberry, Serviceberry, Strawberry, Elderberry, Current, American Cranberry Bush, Oregon Grape, Chokecherry, Red Twig Dogwood, Pacific Ninebark, Pine spp., White Oak, Winter Snowberry, Beaked Hazelnut, Three-Leaf Sumac
Southwest Desert Willow, Rocky Mountain Juniper, Skunkbush Sumac, Opuntia spp., Bigtooth Maple, Serviceberry, Sages, Arizona cypress, Shrubby Cinquefoil, Mahonia, Pine spp., Western Sand Cherry, Wafer Ash, Smooth Sumac, Rose spp., Current
Midwest Serviceberry, Blackberry, Sugar Maple, Eastern White Pine, White Oak, Pecan, Walnut, Chokeberry, Red Twig Dogwood, Winterberry, Northern Bayberry, Fragrant Sumac, Staghorn Sumac, American elder, Snowberry, Arrowwood Viburnum, American Beech, Eastern Red Cedar
Northeast Blueberry, Serviceberry, Arrowwood Viburnum, Winterberry, Silky Dogwood, Gray Dogwood, Northern Bayberry, Blackberry, Chokeberry, Staghorn Sumac, Eastern White Pine, Black Spruce, White Cedar, Red Oak, Sugar Maple, American Beech
Southeast Sourwood, Eastern Hemlock, Loblolly Pine, Shumard Oak, Southern Magnolia, Yellow Buckeye, Aw Palmetto, Southern Live Oak, Beautyberry, Azala, Spicebush, Wax myrtle, Blackhaw Viburnum

Now that you know more about this beautiful predator – do you want to see one in your backyard? Tell me in the comments.

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