Red Fox At A Glance
The red fox is a member of the canid family, which also includes wolves, coyotes, and domestic dogs. They have a very keen sense of smell, excellent hearing, and good vision. Red fox can run at speeds of 30 miles per hour and are good swimmers.
In captivity, red fox live roughly 12 years; however, three to four years is the average life expectancy for wild foxes. Adult red fox have very few natural enemies. Predators include coyotes, eagles, great-horned owls, bobcats, and mountain lions. Hunting, motor vehicle fatalities, and diseases such as rabies, mange, and canine distemper also contribute to their mortality.
Red fox are beautiful animals and can make for an enjoyable watchable wildlife experience.
Red fox are similar in appearance to a small, slender dog.
Adults weigh 8-15 pounds and are roughly 3-4 feet long including the tail.
They have an elongated muzzle and pointed ears that are typically held erect.
Despite the name, red fox are not always red.
There are genetic variations resulting in four recognized color phases: red, cross, silver and black. The red color phase is the most common observed in wild red fox, with all other phases being fairly rare.
In all color phases, red fox have a characteristic white-tipped tail.
Sightings are the most obvious way to know that fox are in the area, but the presence of scat, tracks, and hair are also good clues.
Red fox have chevron-shaped heel pads that distinguish them from other canids.
Unlike most other canine species, red fox grow large amounts of fur between their toes.
Red fox have a musk gland located near the base of their tail.
Red fox are very vocal, especially during the breeding season. The most commonly misinterpreted sounds produced by red fox are screeching yowls that are often reported as a domestic cat fight or a mountain lion screaming. Barking and yipping are also common, especially if pups are present. Although fox do howl, the sound is quite different from coyote and wolf howling.
Red fox can be found in most habitats in Colorado. They are common in open woodlands, pasturelands, riparian areas, and agricultural lands. Red fox can also be successful urban dwellers and often do well on the margins of urbanized areas.
A typical home range for a red fox is five to ten square miles depending on food availability. Males tend to travel farther than females, but juveniles dispersing from their parents will often travel the farthest. Adult red fox will typically stay within a mile of their den while they are raising pups.
Red fox may be active any time, day, or night, but are most active at dawn and dusk.
Hunting and Feeding Habits
Red fox are opportunistic omnivores and are skilled predators and scavengers. They will kill and eat:
Mating And Breeding
Sexual maturity is reached at approximately 10 months of age, and both males and females will breed as juveniles. In Colorado, most mating occurs in mid to late winter with most young born in early spring after a gestation period of 53 days.
Red fox often have a number of den sites available for their use throughout the breeding and rearing seasons; however, a primary den, called a natal den, is typically established in late winter. Natal den sites may be used year after year.
Although red fox will excavate their own dens, they seem to prefer using dens that were constructed by other animals. Depressions under buildings are also favored den sites. Throughout most of the year, red fox are observed in pairs or in family groups. While it is believed red fox mate for life, pairs may separate for a few months, rejoining during the breeding season.
Birth To Maturity
Red fox have a single annual litter. Litter size may vary, with litters in excess of 15 young documented. Most litters average 4 to 5 pups, also known as kits.
Pups weigh about three or four ounces at birth. They are born blind and helpless, but mature quickly. By the time they are 9 days old, their eyes are completely open. Weaning begins when the pups are 4 to 5 weeks old.
Pups will stay within the den for the first month of their lives. Red fox may move their pups once or more throughout the early months of life, particularly if the existing den is disturbed. Once the pups reach 4 to 5 weeks of age, they will start emerging from the den, often playing near the den entrance.
When the pups are approximately 8 to 12 weeks old, they begin to accompany the adults on hunting forays. By time the pups are 16-20 weeks old, they start fending for themselves. Typically pups will remain relatively close to the den for the first several weeks of independence, with most juveniles dispersing in the fall.
What To Do If You Live in Red Fox Country
People and wildlife can coexist. Most dangerous encounters occur because people fail to leave wildlife alone. Red fox are not pets, and they should not be approached, fed, harassed, captured, or domesticated.
Garbage: Garbage that is not securely stored provides an easy meal for these scavengers. Store all garbage in wildlife-proof containers.
Fruit trees: Clean up any fallen fruit to avoid luring red fox or other wildlife to your yard.
Composting: Use an enclosed composting system, and avoid placing meat or fruit scraps onto your mulch or compost pile.
Pets: Red fox will occasionally prey on small pets. Don't allow your pets to roam. Make sure your yard is properly fenced, and when possible, keep your pets indoors. Avoid feeding your pets outdoors and keep your pets on leashes leash when walking them.
Many nuisance red fox problems can be addressed by installing an exclusionary fence. These fences should be at least six feet high with an extra foot of fencing buried underground to prevent digging. Use small woven wire mesh and have a 12-inch wide overhanging edge or a roof to prevent climbing. Electric fencing is another exclusionary fencing option.
Visual deterrents: The installation of bright strobe lights can be helpful. However, red fox are highly adaptable and may not be deterred for long by this technique.
Noise deterrents: Red fox can be scared off with loud noises, including shouting or banging pots and pans. However, foxes that are habituated to living in an urban environment can adapt to human-related noises.
Repellants: Some companies manufacture repellents for deterring foxes. Ammonia is a non-commercial repellant. Using repellants is most successful in small, isolated areas.
Traps and Snares: In most cases, the use of snares and other trapping devices is not legal in Colorado. In many places, live traps are legal and can be useful in urban areas. Individuals wishing to use live traps should be aware of local and state laws. Wildlife regulations prohibit the trapping and relocation of red foxes.
Shooting: Shooting nuisance red fox is an effective control method on private land in rural areas. Landowners wishing to shoot red fox need to be aware of local and state laws. The hunting of red fox on public land requires a Colorado small game or furbearers license.
Don't Feed Wildlife
Feeding wildlife may be well intended, but it is harmful to the animal and can be dangerous for humans. In many parts of Colorado the intentional feeding of red fox is also illegal and should be reported.
If a red fox acts aggressively, it may be an indication that it is sick or injured. Red fox can carry a number of diseases; however, healthy foxes pose virtually no human health risk. The best way to prevent exposure to any wildlife diseases is to avoid approaching and handling wild animals. Pets should also be kept away from wildlife and should be vaccinated against rabies. Any red fox that appears to be sick or that is acting strangely or aggressively should be reported to the nearest Division of Wildlife office and the local animal control agency.
Rabies: Rabies is a virus that attacks the central nervous system of mammals. The virus is shed in the saliva of an infected animal and is transmitted mainly through bites. Red fox with rabies may lose their natural wariness of people and become extremely aggressive, display lack of muscle coordination, and/or show signs of paralysis. Although rabies has been detected in Colorado, cases are relatively rare.
Mange: Sarcoptic mange is an infestation of the skin by mites, which causes hair loss and severe irritation of the skin. Serious cases can cause blindness, hearing loss, difficulty eating, and sometimes even death to the fox. Mange is found in Colorado.