Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes fulva)

Red Fox

Description and Life History

Red foxes can be found in every county in Michigan but are especially common in areas with fallow and cultivated fields, meadows, bushy fence lines, woody stream borders, and low shrub cover along woods and beaches. They can also be found in suburban and, less commonly, urban areas where food is readily available. Foxes are highly mobile, which means they can use a large area to find food and shelter.

Red foxes resemble slender, small dogs, with the head and body typically around two feet long. Red fox tail is long and bushy, usually around 15 inches. The size and weight of foxes are commonly overestimated, because their long fur masks a bone structure that is slighter than that of most domestic dogs. Red foxes have a characteristic red coloration (hence their name), with the face, top of head, and neck having yellow or orange coloration. The tail is reddish mixed with black, and always has a white tip. The outer sides of the ears, lower parts of the legs, and feet are dark or black, while the insides of the ears, and the lips, chest, and belly are creamy white.

The red fox is primarily nocturnal in nature, meaning they are most active at night. They are most commonly observed during early morning or late evening, but can also be observed during the day, especially in open areas. Foxes are often misidentified as cats due to their sleek physique, especially by those that are unfamiliar with them or if viewed from a distance.

Foxes typically use ground burrows or "dens" which provide both shelter and a safe area for raising young. Occasionally, two fox "families" will share the same den. Dens are often located in well-drained, dry areas. Dens can be found in fencerows, in the middle of fields, on woodland edges, ridges, or any place that can provide shelter. Fox dens typically have two or more openings, and can be created by excavating woodchuck (groundhog) or even badger holes.

Reproduction begins with courtship, which usually occurs during the winter months. A female may be followed by one or more courting males and selects a single male with which she makes a firm bond. Breeding typically takes place during the winter and the pair works together to prepare a nursery den. The female gives birth after 51 - 53 days to a litter of an average of five pups (though litters are often larger or smaller). Pups can be born as early as February and as late as late-May. Pups are born helpless and covered with gray-brown, fuzzy fur, but still possess the characteristic white-tipped tail. Pups open their eyes at about 10 days, venture from the den around 20 days, and are weaned at around 60 days (2 months). At this time, the adults bring food to the pups at the den, and often animal parts can be found strewn around the entrance. At around 120 days (4 months), the pups are nearly full-grown and are actively hunting on their own. Male pups begin to venture further from the den site first and dispersal into new territory occurs in the fall and winter, typically October to January. The pups are fully grown by winter and are able to mate and reproduce.

Foxes, like most members of the Canidae (dog) family, are opportunistic and will eat nearly anything available. Foxes are usually solitary hunters as adults and are highly mobile, foraging in an extensive area. They will eat insects, fruits, berries, birds, frogs, snakes, plants, and seeds, as readily as small mammals such as mice, voles, shrews, rabbits, and squirrels. Foxes have been known to eat small mammals up to the size of a woodchuck or, rarely, beaver. Foxes will also feed on carrion (dead animals) or even house cats if the opportunity arises. Foxes can also be attracted to garbage, garden vegetables, and pet foods. Some foxes become problematic when they lose their fear of humans and learn to kill small farm animals like poultry. Steps should be taken to ensure foxes (or any wild animal) are not fed by humans.

Fox-Human Interactions

During the breeding season, foxes can be drawn into areas by pet dogs in heat. Usually, they will not attempt to breed or harm a pet dog but are curious as to what the animal is. Similarly, when dispersing into new territory, foxes may be observed in areas they have not been seen before. If they are not made welcome, they will avoid the area, as they are ideally looking for a safe place to set up a territory.

Foxes do not pose a significant risk to humans or pets. Bites from domestic dogs are a far greater risk than an attack from foxes or any other wild animal, according to public health authorities. However, wild animals that lose their fear of humans can present a risk to small pets and themselves. People should never intentionally feed or attempt to tame wildlife. It is in the best interest of both the animals and humans if wildlife retain their instinctive fear of people. The following important points can help minimize potential conflicts with coyotes:

  • Never approach or touch a fox or other wild animal
  • Never feed a fox (intentionally or not) This means:
    • Eliminate all outside food sources, especially pet foods and bird feeders, especially at night
    • Put garbage in closed containers or only put bags out the morning of pickup day
    • Clear out wood and brush piles; they are good habitat for small mammals and birds and may attract animals that prey on them
  • Do not allow small pets to roam free when foxes are present - consider keeping small pets indoors or accompany them outside, especially at night
  • Practice good husbandry practices, guard animals, and fox control measures can help to protect poultry

The following agencies or businesses can be contacted for advice or assistance if coyote depredation becomes a problem:

Links to Other Sources of Information

How to prevent fox problems:

Fox biology, habitat, and other information:

Red foxes in other areas: