Red foxes are found throughout North America, in Alaska, Canada, and across the continental United States. They also live in Africa, Europe (including the United Kingdom), Asia (including Japan), and Australia. Maryland is home to both red foxes and grey foxes. The Maryland Zoo is home to two red foxes that you can see in Maryland Wilderness.
Red foxes are adaptable and opportunistic eaters that can survive in many different habitats, including forest, tundra, grasslands, and both urban and rural farming areas settled by humans.
Red foxes frequently live where woods and fields meet so that they can retreat to sheltered dens in the woods but hunt in fields for rabbits, mice, birds, and other favorite prey. They are typically solitary animals that live and hunt alone except when raising young. Each fox claims its own home territory, and sometimes these territories overlap slightly. Foxes communicate with each other vocally, with calls ranging from yips to high-pitched shrieks, and with scent. A fox will scent-mark its territorial boundaries and its food caches.
Red foxes mostly hunt at night, although they are not strictly nocturnal. They are well-adapted hunters with keen eyesight and even keener smell and hearing. In the dark, from a distance, a red fox can pinpoint the movements of a tiny mouse beneath a bed of leaves!
When it comes to survival in the wild, it helps to be a skilled hunter but it also helps not to be a picky eater. Red foxes are not picky eaters! They are opportunistic omnivores that seem to eat just about anything, including small mammals, birds, bird eggs, reptiles, amphibians, fish, grasses, berries, nuts, roots, and carrion. If a red fox catches more than it can eat in one sitting, it will hide the rest for later.
Red foxes live in dens that they may dig themselves or take over from other animals. Some fox dens are elaborate, interconnected labyrinths passed down from one generation to the next.
Red foxes play an essential role in the ecosystems that they occupy by keeping populations of prey such as mice and rabbits in check.
Red foxes are preyed upon by wolves, coyotes, bears, and mountain lions. No predator poses a greater threat to red foxes than humans, though. People hunt red foxes for sport and for their beautiful pelts. People also kill red foxes because of perceived (and sometimes actual) threat to pets and farmyard chickens.
Females give birth once a year to a litter of 5 pups on average. At birth, the pups are utterly helpless. Their mother stays with them for the first several weeks to protect them and nurse them. They are fully weaned by 10 weeks of age. While the mother is with her pups in the den, the father will hunt and bring her food. Once the pups are up and around and able to explore outside the den, both parents hunt to feed them. Parent foxes care for their pups for about 6 months, after which they are able to survive on their own. Red fox pups are born with soft brown or gray fur. Their red coats don’t grow in until they are about 4 weeks old.
Because of their enormous distribution and admirable ability to adapt to changing environments, red foxes are not currently endangered or threatened.
“Whose paw prints?” written for The Baltimore Examiner, 2/5/07, p. 28
“Red foxes run the night shift,” written for The Baltimore Examiner, 12/25/07, p. 28.