The Red Fox

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Several calls have come into the Jackson Extension Center in the past month regarding the Red Fox. You may have been lucky enough like myself to observe a “Red Fox” in the wild. My sighting was late one evening this month about 10:00 p.m. when I saw a red fox sprinting across the road in front of my truck about 20-30 yards. The athleticism of the red fox was something to behold! The lower legs and reddish coat immediately told me it was a “Red Fox.” Others, like myself, that have observed a rare sighting of a red fox most always want to know more about the wild animal. I did some research and found this general information.

The red fox is the one of two types of foxes found in North Carolina. The other is the gray fox.

The red fox is named for its reddish or orangish coloration. The tail, body and top of the head are all some shade of yellow-orange to reddish-orange. The undersides are light, and the tips of the ears and lower legs are black.

While rare in North Carolina, red foxes can occur in other color variations, such as black, silver, or a cross between red and silver, commonly known as a “cross fox.”

The tail is long (about 70 percent as long as the head and body length), bushy and has a white tip. Adults are the size of a small dog and weigh from 7.7 to 15.4 pounds. Males are on average 2 lbs. heavier than females.

Red foxes, like other wildlife species, prefer a diversity of habitats rather than large tracts of one habitat type. Preferred habitats include farmland, pastures, brushy fields and open forest stands. They frequently hunt the edges of these open habitats.

The red fox forages on a variety of prey, but mice, meadow voles and rabbits form the bulk of its diet. It will eat insects, birds, eggs, fruits and berries in spring, summer and fall. Since the red fox is also a scavenger, it may also eat carrion and garbage in some locations.

The red fox is economically important as a predator and furbearer. Its appetite for mice and woodchucks greatly benefits farmers and homeowners, and its pelt is valuable for making coats, hats, and other warm clothing.

Foxes are shy and non-aggressive animals. Red foxes are primarily nocturnal, but it is not unusual to see one during the day. Daytime sightings are not necessarily a sign that a fox is diseased. Rather, they are responding to the abundance of food available during the day.

The presence of red foxes in neighborhoods is not unusual. As with other wildlife, red foxes are adapting to changes in habitat. Residential areas can provide food sources and hiding/denning cover (i.e. ornamental shrubs, crawl spaces). Red foxes will take advantage of a wide spectrum of food (fruit, vegetation, pet food, garbage, small prey) often found in neighborhoods.

Red foxes can become habituated to humans if easy access to food exists. To avoid conflicts, people should keep neighborhoods clean of garbage, pet food, and bird food. Leaving pet food outside may attract red foxes, as well as coyotes, raccoons, opossums and skunks. Not only will this cause them to become habituated, but the high concentration of wild animals may result in outbreaks of fatal diseases such as rabies or canine distemper.

There is “No” Fox Trapping or Hunting Season with weapons in either Jackson or Swain counties. Red Fox is considered a “Game Species.” For more information on the Red Fox please go to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) webpage.

As wildlife biologist Aldo Leopold said, “There are some who can live without wild things and some who cannot.” I would guess that most of us in our counties like our rural existence with farms and forests, so along with our rural lifestyle comes wildlife. Most of the time this wildlife is more beneficial than detrimental. If you have a wildlife problem, please contact your county extension center below.

This article was complied from NCWRC and Jackson and Swain Extension by Robert J. Hawk, County Extension Director of Jackson and Swain County. 586-4009 or 488-3848.