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It’s in your nature: Foxes

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    A red fox appears much larger in the winter with its heavy red coat. BARRY REED/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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    A summer “red” looks much more sleek.

Published November 03. 2018 06:58AM

Red and gray foxes are found in Pennsylvania and in the Times News coverage area. They are two distinct species, and other than the coyote, are the only canine predators found here.

Red foxes prefer sparsely settled areas, but not the heavily forested and more mountainous areas that gray fox habituate. Woodlots, hay fields or even poor drainage areas offer them good feeding opportunities. I have probably seen 10 times as many red foxes as “grays” in my outdoor travels.

However, I do frequent the lower Carbon County area more than the Penn Forest or Broad Mountain’s rocky, more forested areas. Both fox species’ populations seem to be stable despite the big increase in coyotes.

Red fox are varied eaters. They’ll eat fruit and grasses, but certainly mice, chipmunks, rabbits, songbirds and their eggs will be their favored fare. To the disdain of farmers or homeowners, a red fox will not turn down a meal of an easily caught chicken.

Fox, in winter, appear much bigger than they really are. Their winter coat, heavier and thicker, seems to add pounds to them. Actually, an adult red fox may weigh 8-12 pounds and “stretch” about 40 inches from the snout to the end of their white-tipped tail. (Not too much bigger than a large house cat.) Red fox are basically reddish-orange and have black-tipped ears, legs and feet.

Red foxes breed in winter with a litter of four to eight pups born in April, usually in an enlarged and abandoned woodchuck den. Both adults bring food back to the den where the pups are fed.

I found a den last spring and I quickly identified it by the lack of leaves near the entrance, chicken feathers other bird feathers, and some bones lying there.

The vixen may move her pups to a new den if she feels the location has been revealed. Their life span is only a few years, with mange, internal parasites, cars and “hard “winters taking their toll.

If you ever have a chance; sit and watch a fox searching a field for mice. They slowly creep to a mouse runway, sit or crouch, and then pounce catlike on the unsuspecting vole or shrew. (They are good “mousers,” much like feral cats.) Most fox observations are probably by hunters who witness one dash by them with their beautiful tail “wafting” behind.

Gray fox have much of the same habits for feeding and breeding. They are obviously gray in color and about the same size as the red fox. One big difference though, “grays” are great climbers.

If chased by dogs, rather than run a marathon like a red fox, it will quickly climb a tree to seek refuge. Both the gray and red fox’s greatest mortality occurs the first few months on their own, but if they make it through their first winter, they’re more likely to make it through a few more breeding seasons. Gray fox also den similarly as the red fox with litter sizes the same. Please note that foxes and raccoons commonly contract rabies, so avoid any strange-acting fox, in particular one acting rather fearlessly.

Nature Trivia Question: I mentioned that a red fox has black tipped ears, legs and feet. Why might they have that adaptation?

Last Week’s Nature Trivia: The saw whet owl, our smallest local owl, migrates into and through our state and can be observed now.

Contact Barry Reed at


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