Gray Fox

Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    The gray fox is found in a wide range of habitats, but prefers areas with dense brush or woods close to the water. It makes its den in hollow trees or logs, under large rocks or in underground burrows. Dens contain bedding made from the feathers and fur of prey, shredded bark, dried leaves and grass. Gray foxes are primarily nocturnal, but have been occasionally spotted during daytime.

  • Range

    Gray foxes can be found throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed. When hunting for food, a gray fox will typically stay within a home range of one to five miles.

  • Diet

    Mice, voles, rabbits, nuts, grains, grasshoppers, beetles, butterflies and moths

  • Lifespan

    6 to 8 years in wild

  • Status

    Stable

The gray fox has coarse, gray fur and a black-tipped tail. It can be found from southern Canada to the northern Columbia and Venezuela.

Appearance

The gray fox has a gray colored back and reddish-brown sides, chest, belly, legs and feet. Its cheeks, muzzle and throat are white, and it has a thick, black stripe running from the inner corner of its eyes to its mouth. The fox's long, bushy tail has a black stripe and a black tip. Its tail accounts for nearly one-third of its body length. Its ears and muzzle are pointed. Males are slightly larger than females. A gray fox typically weighs eight to 15 pounds, though have been recorded to weigh as much as 20 pounds. The gray fox can be differentiated from the red fox by its coarser fur, shorter snout, darker eyes and smaller legs and feet.

Feeding

The gray fox is an omnivore, with its diet reflecting seasonal changes in its local food supply. In the winter, gray foxes will primarily eat small- to medium-sized mammals such as mice, voles and rabbits. Beginning in the spring, however, gray foxes will take advantage of the abundance of vegetation and will transition to a more fruit-centered diet. They will also consume more nuts, grains and invertebrates, including grasshoppers, beetles, butterflies and moths. The gray fox will store excess food in holes dug in the ground and will mark these hiding places with urine or scent glands to ward off predators, while ensuring that the food can be easily located later.

Predators

Predators to the gray fox include bobcats, great-horned owls and coyotes. However, humans are considered to be the most significant predator of adult gray foxes, which are often hunted for fur or killed by farmers because they are considered pests. Unlike red foxes, which evade predators by using their superior agility, gray foxes prefer to escape by hiding under brush or by using their retractable claws to escape into trees. 

Voice

Gray foxes are usually quiet animals. However, during mating season, the gray fox will sometimes give off a series of sharp barks or yips to attract its mate. It has also been known to growl, snarl, squeal, screech and chuckle. The harsh-sounding screech gray foxes emit is probably the most identifiable sound this species makes.

Ki Steiner via YouTube

Reproduction and Life Cycle

These solitary animals only socialize during mating season, which begins in winter and runs through March. About two months after mating, female gives birth to a litter of one to seven pups. At birth, pups are blind, covered in black fur and weigh about three ounces. Both parents care for the offspring. Males typically provide most of the food scraps and teach pups hunting skills. At three to six weeks, the pups are weaned and ready to hunt on their own. Pups leave their mother in the fall when they are about 10 months old. Males and females are typically monogamous, mating for life. The gray fox's lifespan ranges from six to eight years in the wild; however, these foxes have been reported to live up to 12 years in captivity.

Did You Know?

  • The gray fox is the only member of the Canidae family that can climb trees. Dens have been found in the lower forest canopy, roughly 10 meters off the ground.
  • Gray foxes can reach speeds up to 28 miles per hour when running.
  • The gray fox’s musk glands are the largest among North American canids. These glands are located along the upper surface of the tail and are believed to be used for identifying individuals.

Sources and Additional Information

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Native

  • Habitat

    The gray fox is found in a wide range of habitats, but prefers areas with dense brush or woods close to the water. It makes its den in hollow trees or logs, under large rocks or in underground burrows. Dens contain bedding made from the feathers and fur of prey, shredded bark, dried leaves and grass. Gray foxes are primarily nocturnal, but have been occasionally spotted during daytime.

  • Range

    Gray foxes can be found throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed. When hunting for food, a gray fox will typically stay within a home range of one to five miles.

  • Diet

    Mice, voles, rabbits, nuts, grains, grasshoppers, beetles, butterflies and moths

  • Lifespan

    6 to 8 years in wild

  • Status

    Stable