Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Nature Guide: Red Fox

Photo: John Sarvis/USFWS

The Red Fox is a member of the Canidae family, which includes wolves, foxes, jackals, coyotes and the domestic dog. Although the Red Fox is a common and widespread species, it's still exciting to see one while walking in the area. Our Nature Guide Jon Latimer gives us some information.

"A Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) usually has a rusty red back and head, but may be gray, brown or white. Its underbelly is white and its ear tips, legs and feet are black. Its bushy tail has a white tip which distinguishes it from the Gray Fox and the coyote. An adult Red Fox weighs from 7 to 15 pounds and can grow more than two feet in length with an 18-inch tail. A Red Fox has eyes like a cat, with vertically split pupils that are gold or yellow.

"Although Red Foxes are considered carnivores, they are actually very opportunistic eaters. Their most common prey includes mice, squirrels, rabbits and birds, but their diet ranges from insects and bird's eggs to berries, fruits and grasses. Red Foxes sometimes scavenge carrion and are even known to steal pet food from bowls left outside houses. They are nocturnal and usually hunt alone, relying on their acute sense of hearing to locate small animals in thick grass or even underground. They stalk their prey like a cat, sneaking close and then pouncing on it, sometimes jumping high in the air. Red Foxes are known to bury leftover food to save it for later.

"The Red Fox is native to Europe and Asia. It was introduced into the United State by would-be fox hunters in the 17th century and has since become an established resident everywhere except the Southwest. It makes its home in wooded areas, priairies and farmland, but it is also found in suburban and even urban areas.

"Red Foxes mate from January through March. The female, known as a vixen, will dig one or more dens or occupy a den abandoned by a groundhog or other burrowing animal. The extra dens are used if the original one is disturbed. A little less than two months after mating, the vixen gives birth to a litter of between one and ten kits. The male brings the female food while she is caring for the kits. The kits start playing outside the den when they are about a month old. The mother begins feeding her kits regurgitated food, but eventually she will bring them live prey. Kits leave their mother when they are about seven months old."