Red Fox

Vulpes vulpes

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Nonnative

  • Habitat

    Found in many areas, including swamps, forests and farms. Mostly nocturnal but also active during dusk and dawn.

  • Range

    Throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed. Stays within a home range of 3 to 30 miles, depending on the amount of food available.

  • Diet

    Feeds on a variety of foods, including fruits, seeds, worms, insects, small mammals, and small marsh birds and their eggs

  • Lifespan

    3 years

  • Status

    Stable

The red fox is a small, reddish, dog-like mammal that lives in swamps, forests and farms throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Appearance

Red foxes vary in color from bright red to rusty or reddish-brown with white underparts. They have black fur on their lower legs and feet and large ears that are black on the backs. Their muzzles are slim and sharply pointed. Their bushy red and black tail is usually tipped in white. Red foxes grow to about 25 inches in length and weigh 6 to 15 pounds.

Feeding

The red fox hunts and forages for a variety of foods, including fruits, seeds, worms, insects, small mammals (such as voles, mice, rabbits and muskrats), and small marsh birds and their eggs. It is able to hear small mammals digging, chewing and rustling underground. Once a fox detects its prey, it rapidly digs into the soil to capture it. It will also stalk small mammals by standing very still, them leaping high and bring their forepaws down hard to pin the animal to the ground.

Predators

Young foxes are preyed upon by eagles, coyotes and other animals. Humans are the biggest predator of adult foxes, who are hunted for fur or killed because they are considered pests.

Voice

The most commonly heard red fox vocalizations are a quick series of barks, and a scream like variation on a howl. The barks are a sort of ow-wow-wow-wow, but very high-pitched, almost yippy. It's commonly mistaken for an owl hooting. That bark sequence is thought to be an identification system; studies indicate that foxes can tell each other apart by this call. The scream like howl is most often heard during the breeding season, in the springtime.  It's thought that this call is used by vixens (female foxes) to lure male foxes to them for mating, though males have been found to make this sound occasionally as well.

Most other fox vocalizations are quiet and used for communication between individuals in close proximity. The most unusual is called "gekkering;" it's a guttural chattering with occasional yelps and howls, like an ack-ack-ack-ackawoooo-ack-ack-ack. Gekkering is heard amongst adults in aggressive encounters (of which there are many; red foxes are highly territorial) and also amongst young kits playing (or play-fighting). There's also the alarm call, which up close sounds like a cough but from afar sounds like a sharp bark, and is mostly used by fox parents to alert youngsters to danger.

Sounds of the Fox

Reproduction and Life Cycle

Breeding occurs between January and March. Most males have just one female partner, but some males breed with multiple females. After mating, the female makes a den. The male does not enter the den, but brings food for the female and their pups. Gestation lasts 51 to 53 days, after which the female gives birth to a litter of about 5 pups, which are born blind but open their eyes within two weeks. Young remain in the den for 4 to 5 weeks. The female nurses her pups for about two months. Young then get solid food from their parents and other members of their group. Sometimes the female will bring her pups live food to “play” with and eat so they can learn hunting skills. Young remain with their parents until autumn of the year they were born; sometimes females stay longer. Red foxes usually only live 3 years old in the wild.

Did You Know?

  • Red foxes are related to wolves, coyotes and domestic dogs. While their cousins tend to be social animals, red foxes are solitary, cautious and tense.
  • They are fast runners that can reach speeds of nearly 30 miles per hour. Red foxes can also leap more than 6 feet high.
  • The red fox uses its bushy tail as a blanket to keep warm.
  • Red foxes are not native to the United States. They were introduced here from England in the mid-1800s for hunting. Unregulated trapping and hunting greatly reduced their population at one time.

Sources and Additional Information

Quick Facts

  • Species

    Nonnative

  • Habitat

    Found in many areas, including swamps, forests and farms. Mostly nocturnal but also active during dusk and dawn.

  • Range

    Throughout the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed. Stays within a home range of 3 to 30 miles, depending on the amount of food available.

  • Diet

    Feeds on a variety of foods, including fruits, seeds, worms, insects, small mammals, and small marsh birds and their eggs

  • Lifespan

    3 years

  • Status

    Stable