Foxes of Frederick County

There are two species of fox found in Frederick County: the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes), and the Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). These two animals are easy to distinguish by color. Red fox are also larger than gray fox, averaging in size from 12 -30 lbs while the gray fox is 8 – 20 lbs. The gray fox is more “cat like” in appearance with a long slender body, thick neck, and strong hooked claws that enable it to climb trees. The gray fox belongs to the most primitive order of canines, Urocyon, along with the Asian raccoon dog and Island Fox, all having the ability to climb. Both foxes are most active from dusk through the night to dawn. They can feed on plants and animals. Fox mainly eat rabbits, shrews, moles, birds, fruit, nuts, and herbaceous plants. The red fox is especially opportunistic, feeding on most anything and can be a serious predator of poultry. Red fox thrive in a variety of settings, preferring more open areas like farm fields, residential areas and small woodlots. Gray fox, on the other hand, prefer heavily forested areas. Where the habitats overlap the gray fox has a more aggressive nature to ward off the red fox encroachment. Coyotes, dogs, bobcat, and bear may prey upon a fox.

The red fox was introduced from Europe in the 1600’s when the English first settled the New World. Fox hunting was a favorite sport, and these animals were introduced in North America and Australia for their sporting value. The red fox has become a serious conservation problem in Australia and has been linked to the extinction of 10 species of birds. The red fox is very adaptable and able to coexist with humans while the gray fox does not do well around humans. As a result red fox numbers are growing and the gray fox is declining in areas that are seeing human encroachment.

Winter Food and Cover

When it gets cold and snowy we can always retreat to the comfort of our homes. Wildlife is not so lucky. During inclement weather an animal must quickly find food and shelter or perish. It is in fact the presence of winter food and shelter that will determine how much wildlife can survive to the spring. Planting evergreens and deciduous trees that provide winter food sources is something we can do to help our year-round wildlife residents. Evergreens provide “thermal” cover during cold days and help the animals avoid predators. Many evergreens retain their cones or berries throughout the winter to provide a good source of food for birds and other animals. Planting clusters of evergreens around a food or water source creates good cover for larger animals as well. Trees and shrubs like tulip poplar, holly, cedar, sumac, maple, pine, and dogwood provide a good source of high energy food for birds and other animals with their berries, nuts, cones and samaras. There are a number of good publications and other resources that illustrate how to develop good winter cover on your property.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 1/3/2010