August 2015 - The Common Gray Fox
In California, gray foxes are generally found at elevations of 1000 to 3000 feet. Foxes are crepuscular which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. They “wake up” shortly before sunset to scope out the immediate area and then forage for food. Near sunrise, it is time for sleep. They change their sleeping area every day starting in the spring when vegetative cover is abundant. During winter, they will reuse the same den. They will den in hollow logs and trees, stumps, cavities under rocks, abandoned buildings or even in a tree 30 feet above ground.
Common Gray Foxes are medium-sized canids (same family as your pet dog). They have long bodies, short legs and weigh from approximately 8 to 15 pounds with the females being slightly smaller than the males. They have a mix of white, red, black and gray fur with the new born kits being dark brown. Their fluffy tail is about one third of their total body length. The average life span is 6 to 8 years.
The strong hooked claws of the fox allow it to climb trees to escape your pet dog or coyote or to reach food sources such as the delectable peaches in your garden. It is able to climb tree trunks up to heights of 59 feet and jump from branch to branch. It will descend by jumping to branches or backing down the tree like a domestic cat.
Gray foxes are monogamous. They have one litter per year of from 1 to 7 kits. The young will hunt with their parents at about 3 months old and by 4 months are able to forage on their own. The family will stay together until autumn and then disperse.
Foxes are solitary hunters and in California feast primarily on rodents, jackrabbits, brush rabbits, and birds. Fruit is also an important part of their diet eating whatever fruits are readily available. Their favorite invertebrates are grasshoppers, beetles, butterflies and moths.
Farmers generally have considered common gray foxes to be pests, but biologists believe this to be overstated. Foxes have a small but import role in our ecosystems by reducing the rodent and rabbit population and providing a benefit to agriculture.