Grey fox, Tree fox, Common grey fox, Common gray fox
Gray foxes are canids (dogs) of medium size with long bodies and fairly short legs. Individuals living at high elevations compared to those at low elevations are slightly larger, and males are also slightly larger and more robust than females, and have a longer pelvis. When born, the fur of gray foxes is dark brown. As adults, their fur is a mix of white, red, gray and black. Their tail is about one-third of their body length, with a distinct black stripe on the top and a tip of black, the rest being gray, and the top of its head, its back and sides are gray. Its chest, belly, sides of the face and legs are reddish brown, while the muzzle, cheeks, and throat are white. The pupils are oval-shaped. Around the eyes is a thin black stripe which runs horizontally from the outer corner of the eye. A thicker black stripe runs from the inner corner of the eye to the mouth.
The Gray fox inhabits most parts of the southern part of North America, from the south of Canada to Venezuela and Colombia in the north of South America. They prefer deciduous forests which incorporate brushy, woodland areas. Many of them live where farmlands and woodlands meet. They prefer to be close to water.
Habits and lifestyle
For most of the year, Gray foxes remain solitary. They will spend time socializing with their mate and their offspring in the period after the kits are born. Primarily nocturnal, they have been occasionally observed during daytime. They make their dens in caves, rocky crevices, trees and hollow logs. Gray foxes will sometimes extend a woodchuck burrow for their den. They usually use dens only during mating season and for raising young. As with other members of the Canidae family, these foxes can communicate through barking and growling. Young foxes commonly play fight. Adults mark food sources and territories with their scent.
Diet and nutrition
Gray foxes are omnivorous and mostly eat small mammals such as voles, mice and eastern cottontail rabbits. They also eat birds and insects, as well as plants like corn, apples, berries, nuts and grass. In summer and autumn, crickets and grasshoppers form an important part of the diet.
Gray foxes are typically monogamous, which means they mate with only one partner in a breeding season. In the fall, male-female pairs form, and breeding takes place in the winter, starting in January until late February, and continuing into March. The gestation period is about 53 days, and the young are born in April-May. Litters usually number 4 or 5 kits. Adults males do the majority of the hunting before the births take place, while females seek out and prepare a den. Weaning starts when kits are about 2 to 3 weeks old, and they begin eating solid food at around 3 weeks old, primarily being provided by the father. The parents teach their young how to hunt when they are about 4 months old, both parents, until then, hunting for food separately. Kits practice hunting skills by stalking and pouncing, primarily taught by their father. They depend on their parents to protect them until they are about 10 months old. By then they are sexually mature and will leave the family.
About 53 day
Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are the main threats the gray fox faces, as a result of human numbers increasing rapidly. Important habitat has been converted for industrial, agricultural, and urban use. Gray foxes are often sold illegally in Mexico as pets.
The IUCN Red List and other sources don’t provide the number of the Gray fox total population size. Currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today remain stable.
Gray foxes, within their ecosystem, play a small but an important role. They influence small rodent populations through their feeding habits, through a steady predator-prey relationship.
Fun facts for kids
- The tree-climbing ability of the Gray fox is well known; it can climb vertical tree trunks.
- Gray foxes climb trees to escape from predators, as well as to catch prey. Sometimes they choose to nap in a sunny patch up in a tree. They will occasionally use a hollow tree for a den well above the ground, in which to raise a litter.
- When climbing down from trees, these foxes will either go backwards down a tree which is vertical or run head-first along more slanted trees to the ground.
- Gray foxes have a characteristic bark that they usually repeat four or five times. It also squeals and growls.
- People mistake the Gray fox for the Red fox, mainly due to its reddish-brown fur and also because they are similar in size.