Thursday, February 10, 2011

Nature Guide: Gray Fox

Our article on the Red Fox continues to draw readers almost daily, some of whom also show an interest in learning about the Gray Fox. Although the Gray Fox is found in our area, seeing one is difficult because they are normally active only at night. Our Nature Guide Jon Latimer tells us more about the other fox, the Gray Fox.

“The Gray Fox (
Urocyon cinereoargenteus) can be found from Alaska and southern Canada to northern Venezuela and Colombia. It prefers brushy or forested habitats, but in many parts of its range it has been replaced by the Red Fox, especially where humans make their homes.

“Fully grown, a Gray Fox is 32 to 45 inches long and weighs 7 to 13 pounds. Its coat is grizzled gray on top, with white on its throat and chest. Its tail has a long black stripe on its top and a dark gray or black tip. It has rusty-red fur on its ears and neck, and along the sides, which is why it can be confused with the Red Fox. But a Gray Fox has a shorter muzzle and its ears are usually held erect and pointed forward.

“The Gray Fox is a nocturnal hunter, although it sometimes forages during the day. It preys on small mammals but will also eat eggs, insects, birds, fruits, acorns and berries. During the day it usually sleeps in a hollow tree or in a burrow taken over from a groundhog or other animal.

“Gray Foxes are thought to mate for life. The female (vixen) may dig a den or enlarge the burrow of another animal. A den is often used year after year and can be as much as 75 feet long. It may have numerous side chambers used for storing food and keeping young kits safe. Male Gray Foxes bring food to the female and help teach the kits to hunt

“The Gray Fox has unusually strong, hooked claws that allow it to scramble up a tree. In fact, it is one of only two species of dog that regularly climb trees to escape predators or to obtain food (the other is the Raccoon Dog, Nyctereutes procyonoides, of east Asia). Gray Foxes sometimes climb trees to take a nap in a sunny location. They have even been known to hide or sleep in the nest of a hawk or owl. This unusual behavior is another reason why the the Gray Fox is seldom seen."

Photos: USBR; R. Robinson, NPS; Dave Schaffer, USFWS; Gary M. Stolz, USFWS; Dcrjsr