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  • 11/16/2010


    Saving Lives with a Little Natural


    … in this case, the Red Fox

    Valerie Ackerman

    Virginia State Licensed Rehabilitator

    President, Wilderness Wildlife Rehabilitation


    • Classification

    • Distribution

    • General Description

    • Feeding Habits

    – Diet and hunting skills

    • Behavior

    • Life Cycle

    – Birth and development

    • Mortality

    Receiving Calls Related to the Red Fox

    • Winning the caller’s confidence

    • Scanning the landscape

    • Placing the caller’s concerns in perspective


    • Kingdom: Animalia (animals)

    • Phylum: Chordata (i.e. has a backbone)

    • Class: Mammalia (mammals)

    • Order: Carnivora (possesses true canine teeth)

    • Family: Canidae (dogs)

    • Genus: Vulpes (the Latin word for “fox”)

    • Species: vulpes

    Vulpes vulpes (red fox)


    • One of the largest ranges of any land animal. It

    exists in:

    – Almost all of N. America north of Mexico

    – Common throughout Europe and parts of North


    – Most of Asia

    – In addition, it has been

    introduced to several

    Pacific Islands, and to the

    continent of Australia in 1845

    They are known to live in a wide range of

    environments including forest, marshes,

    desert shrubland, prairies, and the arctic

    tundra, not to mention suburban and urban


    Photo: Rob Lee

  • 11/16/2010


    General Description: Weight ranges from 8 to

    17 pounds depending on the region. In higher

    latitudes such as Alaska and Canada they tend

    to be larger. Very large red fox can weigh up to

    31 pounds. Colors: Most common are reddish tone to

    dark chestnut with a white chin, white upper

    lip, white underside, black ears, black feet and

    legs, and black nose. Other various color

    phases including silver fox and cross fox

    appear in litters of normal reds.

    Eyes: Gold to yellow and have distinctive

    vertical/slit pupils, similar to those of

    domestic cats

    Tail: Red fox has a bushy tail that accounts for one-

    third of his body length. It is used for insulation while

    sleeping, a tool for communication, balance for

    movement, and has a white tip that distinguishes it

    from other canids.

    Feet: The red fox’s feet are canine though somewhat small. Forepaws have five toes and hind paws have four. Their agility is enhanced by their semi-retractable claws.

    Ear: Red foxes have triangular shaped ears that

    move continually to improve reception

    Red fox employs 42 teeth within in elongated muzzle.

    Canines which hold prey, incisors for cutting and

    shearing meat, and molars for grinding bones and

    vegetable matter.

    Kevin Fleming

    Diet: Foxes are true omnivores. Their vegetarian side may

    include grasses, grains, fungi, berries and fruit. On the

    carnivorous side, diet may consist of insects (especially

    grasshoppers), rodents (mice, voles), rabbits, birds, eggs,

    amphibians and small reptiles, fish, earthworms, carrion, and



    In urban areas, red foxes will also scavenge on

    human refuse and will eat from pet food

    bowls left outside. An opportunist, red fox diet

    tends to vary directly to what’s available.

  • 11/16/2010


    Hunting: Red foxes are solitary hunters. Their acute sense of

    hearing allows them to locate small mammals in thick grass,

    under growth or deep snow, within a few inches. They will

    then launch themselves at a 45 degree angle into the air to

    pounce on their prey .

    Steve Hinch

    Red fox will also stalk prey such as rabbits and squirrels,

    keeping hidden until close enough to catch them in a short

    dash. However, its strong legs allow it to reach speeds up to

    30 mph.

    Behavior: Although the red fox is primarily described as

    crepuscular, it can also be active during the day. This behavior

    can be observed while raising their kits and during the cold

    winter months.

    Red fox generally claims its own territory, pairing up only in

    winter and foraging alone in the summer. Red fox may

    maintain territories as large as 4-5 square miles, but sightings

    of red fox sustaining a family on as little as an acre in urban

    areas occur as well.

    Several dens are utilized within these territories. Dens may be

    claimed from animals such as woodchucks. Larger dens are

    used for winter months and for rearing young. Smaller dens

    are used for emergencies and to store excess food. Those

    dens are sometimes connected. In addition to an entrance,

    their dens will always have an exit.

    Dens may be located in various areas, including fields, edge of

    forests, deserts, under porches, or old barns, but always

    located near a water source.

    Jo and Jeff

    Foxes mark their territory by recognition posts that are special

    smells that come from a scent gland located just above the

    fox’s tail. Red fox cannot spray like a skunk and does not use

    this secretion as a defense.

    Red foxes primarily form monogamous pairs each winter. Both

    parents will cooperate to raise a litter of kits each year.

    Max Waugh

    Socially the fox communicates with body language and a

    variety of vocalizations. Noises may vary from a distinctive

    three-yip “where are you” call, to a shriek that sounds like a

    human scream. They also communicate with scent, marking

    food and territorial boundary lines with urine and feces.

    Joel Sartore

  • 11/16/2010


    Life cycle: Birth and development: Due to its broad

    distribution, red fox breeding period varies between

    December and March, depending on the location. Females

    have an annual estrous period of between one and six days.

    Although a female may mate with several males, she will

    eventually settle with only one.

    David Element

    Generally, gestation period varies between 49 to 54 days. After

    the kits are born, the mother will stay with them to nurse and

    to keep them warm until their eyes open ~ about 10 days.

    During this period, the male will bring food to her and leave it

    at the front of the den.


    At birth, fox pups weigh 3-4 ounces (85 to 110 grams). Litters

    average four to nine young, five being the norm. They are

    dark grayish/brown in color. Kits develop rapidly, tripling their

    weight in ten days.

    Kit’s bluish grey eyes open by the second week and the mother is able to

    leave them for brief periods of time. By the third week, they are able to

    move around and start fighting among themselves to establish an order of

    dominance. By the fourth week, weaning begins and kits are fed partially

    digested food, regurgitated by their parents. Mother still nurses her

    young, but starts to discourage them from suckling.

    By the fifth week, they start to explore the outside of the den.

    At this time, they are a sandy grey-brown color that

    camouflages them well in their new surroundings. A hierarchy

    amongst the kits has been established and they are now

    enjoying the most carefree times of their lives.

    At six and seven weeks, they are much bolder and start

    pouncing on leaves and sticks, and roughhousing with their

    siblings. They frequently stalk and chase one another, and

    some rivalry is still present. The play is needed to learn

    hunting and fighting techniques needed later in life.

    By the second month, kits are fully weaned, and by the third

    month, they are able to catch small prey such as insects.

    David White

    Summer arrives, their grey coat has turned reddish and their

    eyes, the golden color of adults.

    David White

    In addition to play, the kits accompany their parents on

    hunting trips to sharpen their skills.


  • 11/16/2010


    At six months, the red fox is fully grown and has most of its skills to

    survive. In autumn, fox kits begin to disperse and find their own

    territories, males leaving first. In some cases, one or more juvenile

    vixens will remain with their parents for a year. They are referred to

    as “helper vixens”. They are non-breeding and will help to bring food

    to their younger siblings the following year. When foxes disperse,

    they will either take over another fox’s territory, or find one of their

    own. At this point the cycle begins again.

    David White


    Natural predators of the red fox can include (depending on

    the region) bears, domesticated dogs, eagles, hawks, owls,

    wolves and coyotes. Foxes are subject to diseases such as

    distemper, sarcoptic mange, and rabies, and more