Red fox

Red foxes are probably more plentiful around suburbia nowadays, but they are probably less secretive than they once were.

A good many years ago, an authoritative neighbor assured me there was no way that any red foxes lived nearby, he never having seen one in his generously experienced life.

That was after I had beckoned a few of them to me with predator calls in incidents that took place within a few hundred yards of where the sage neighbor slept.

I suppose that is an example of not seeing is not believing. Admittedly, red foxes were not very obvious back in those times. That could be attributed to the species of Vulpes vulpes being quite shy and just not wanting to be seen by man. In addition, there is the factor that these foxes are more nocturnal than diurnal, meaning that they are more active in darkness than by light of day.

Something has been happening in recent years, however. Red foxes have either been becoming more common around where people live, or they have become more casual about being seen. I think it is a combination of both.

More reports arise nowadays about people seeing foxes around their homes, sometimes in rural areas but increasingly in developed, suburban areas or even more urban situations. Red foxes are becoming the new neighbors where they weren’t before, or again, maybe they are more numerous and/or they don’t care as much anymore that some human sees them.

You have to recognize a red fox when you see one. It is that canine with the obvious rusty to orangey red coat on its face, back and sides. Match that with the fat plume tail, which itself is rusty red except for a white tip.

The red fox has an underbelly of dirty white and contrasting black on its feet and ear tips. At first glance, however, that overall red coat is pretty much a giveaway.

When wearing a thick winter coat, the red fox looks much larger than life. Including the fluffy tail, the fox may be 3 feet long, the largest being the mature males of the species. But beneath that fur coat, even the largest males are only about 16 inches tall at the shoulder, and the lady vixens may only stand about a foot tall. I’d bet a lot of weight estimations of red foxes run three times that of reality. Again, the long fur of the winter coat makes them look like much more critter than is actually there. In reality, most red foxes average only about 11-14 pounds, the larger being the males. There are reports of males weighing several pounds heavier, but that seems quite the exception.

Biologists indicate that red foxes are increasing their range even now. They have a track record of doing that. They have been around for millions of years, and presently they are viewed as the second-most widely distributed land-living mammal worldwide. Their successful distribution is exceeded by only one group of critters, humans.

The red fox’s success suggests that it must be about the perfect canine. It is adaptable, finding itself at home everywhere from woodlands and meadows to suburban lawns and urban parking lots and alleys — just so there is some cover somewhere that it can take refuge. Meanwhile, it can sustain itself on a huge variety of food.

A red fox probably would prefer to eat rabbits and small rodents, but it gets by on what is available. That could be birds, eggs, insects, amphibians or fruits found in the wild. It also includes pet food left on the porches of human residences, garbage, carrion from roadkills and other sources, and poultry around farms and homesteads. It is not the first, natural choice, but, yes, chickens and such are welcome fox fodder.

There is probably a natural acclimation that is going on regarding red foxes and human residences. Over time, the spread of suburbia exposes more human homes and the activities around them to resident foxes. The more that red foxes operate around these nests of people without negative consequences, the more that foxes think: why not?

Yes, red foxes are intelligent and alert to danger from people, and over time they come to realize that it is not particularly risky around human residences. There is often feeding opportunities there (like pet food, etc.), and the dangers may be minimal. The reward-to-risk factors sway red foxes toward mankind.

Another factor that I believe nudges red foxes onto the flanks of suburbia is the fox dangers from coyotes. These larger predators typically make a point to kill foxes at any meeting, a matter of eliminating competition and sometimes to eat the smaller canines.

Red foxes are smart enough to recognize that coyotes, too, are shy of humans and that the foxes that move their operations into close proximity with people get a little more protection from coyotes that way.

Top natural enemies for foxes hereabouts are coyotes and people, but people have mostly ceased to be a problem. The reds have been targeted for their furs, but trapping has waned with a general collapse in fur prices as well as societal pressures.Far fewer people view the foxes as a game or furbearer species, and the notion of red foxes as villainous varmints seems to be much in decline these days. I think red foxes get a sense that they aren’t so much on man’s hit list now.

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