The red fox is dog-like in appearance, with an elongated pointed muzzle and large pointed ears that are usually erect and forward. It has moderately long legs and long, thick, soft body fur with a heavily furred, bushy tail. Typically, red foxes are colored with a light orange-red coat, black legs, lighter-colored underfur and a white-tipped tail. Silver and cross foxes are color phases of the red fox. In North America the red fox weighs about 7.7 to 15.4 pounds (3.5 to 7.0 kg), with males on average 2.2 pounds (1 kg) heavier than females.
Gray foxes weigh 7 to 13 pounds (3.2 to 5.9 kg) and measure 32 to 45 inches (81 to 114 cm) from the nose to the tip of the tail. The color pattern is generally salt-and-pepper gray with buffy underfur. The sides of the neck, back of the ears, legs, and feet are rusty yellow. The tail is long and bushy with a black tip.
Other species of foxes present in North America are the Arctic fox, swift fox, and kit fox. These animals are not usually associated with livestock and poultry depredation because they typically eat small rodents and lead a secretive life in remote habitats away from people, although they may cause site-specific damage problems.
Range and Habitat
Red foxes occur over most of North America, north and east from southern California, Arizona, and central Texas. They are found throughout most of the United States with the exception of a few isolated areas.
Gray foxes are found throughout the eastern, north central, and southwestern United States They are found throughout Mexico and most of the southwestern United States from California northward through western Oregon.
Kit foxes are residents of arid habitats. They are found from extreme southern Oregon and Idaho south along the Baja Peninsula and eastward through southwestern Texas and northern Mexico.
The present range of swift foxes is restricted to the central high plains. They are found in Kansas, the Oklahoma panhandle, New Mexico, Texas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming and Colorado.
As its name indicates, the Arctic fox occurs in the arctic regions of North America and was introduced on a number of Islands in the Aleutian chain.
The red fox is adaptable to most habitats within its range, but usually prefers open country with moderate cover. Some of the highest fox densities reported are in the north-central United States, where woodlands are interspersed with farmlands. The range of the red fox has expanded in recent years to fill habitats formerly occupied by coyotes (Canis latrans).
The reduction of coyote numbers in many sagebrush/grassland areas of Montana and Wyoming has resulted in increased fox numbers. Red foxes have also demonstrated their adaptability by establishing breeding populations in many urban areas of the United States, Canada, and Europe. Gray foxes prefer more dense cover such as thickets, riparian areas, swamp land, or rocky pinyon-cedar ridges. In eastern North America, this species is closely associated with edges of deciduous forests. Gray foxes can also be found in urban areas where suitable habitat exists.
Foxes are most active during the early hours of darkness and very early morning hours. They do move about during the day, however, especially when it is dark and overcast.
Foxes have a wide variety of calls. They may bark, scream, howl, yap, growl, or make sounds similar to a hiccup. During winter a male will often give a yelling bark, “wo-wo-wo,” that seems to be important in warning other male foxes not to intrude on its territory.
Foxes may cause serious problems for poultry producers. Turkeys raised in large range pens are subject to damage by foxes. Losses may be heavy in small farm flocks of chickens, ducks and geese. Young pigs, lambs and small pets are also killed by foxes. Damage can be difficult to detect because the prey is usually carried from the kill site to a den site, or uneaten parts are buried.
Foxes do carry rabies. Although the number of foxes with rabies has declined, humans are still at risk. Rabies outbreaks are most prevalent among red foxes in southeastern Canada and occasionally in the eastern United States.
Foxes in the United States are listed as furbearers or given some status as game animals by most state governments. Most states allow for the taking of foxes to protect private property. Check with your state wildlife agency for regulations before undertaking fox control measures.
Net wire fences. Electric fences.
Protect livestock and poultry during most vulnerable periods (for example, shed lambing, farrowing pigs in protective enclosures).
Flashing lights and exploders may provide temporary protection. Well-trained livestock guarding dogs may be effective in some situations.
None are registered for livestock protection.
Gas cartridges for den fumigation, where registered.
M-44® sodium cyanide mechanical ejection device, in states where registered.
Steel leghold traps. Cage or box traps. Snares.
Predator calling techniques. Aerial hunting.
Den hunting. Remove young foxes from dens to reduce predation by adults.
The above information was adapted from PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF WILDLIFE DAMAGE with permission of the editors, Scott E. Hygnstrom, Robert M. Timm, and Gary E. Larson (Cooperative Extension Division, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources University of Nebraska-Lincoln, United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Animal Damage Control, Great Plains Agricultural Council Wildlife Committee).