Gray fox: Wily, nervous, and omnivorous

Published 9:24 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2015

By “Biff” and Susan Andrews

We’ve seen “our” fox at dusk the last few evenings. They’re nocturnal or crepuscular (what a great word!) and so, like the flying squirrels and otters we’ve already discussed, rarely seen. Couple this trait with naturally cautious/nervous behavior, and it’s easy to see why they’re not easy to see.

Much smaller than their red cousins, they’re about 36 inches long, including a 12- to 15-inch black-tipped tail (while red foxes have a white tip). The average adult weighs only eight to 10 pounds in all, just a bit larger than the average house cat.

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They move quickly and nervously, looking like a large cat in dog form, only with a fluffy tail. Gray foxes, like all God’s creatures, are amazing. They have hooked front claws and can therefore climb trees, sometimes being called “tree foxes.” They can even eat birds and bird eggs.

Gray foxes like to be near water (we are on Lake Meade) and den up in hollow trees, logs, groundhog burrows, brush piles or dense vegetation. They should have recently given birth and will care for their young for about four months.

In previous years, we have counted a mom and several kits at one sighting. The young strike out on their own at about eight months. They’ll mate at the age of a year and are monogamous.

Gray foxes are true omnivores. They eat plants — seeds and nuts, berries, fruit and vegetables. They eat insects, such as crickets and grasshoppers. They eat amphibians and reptiles — frogs, salamanders and small snakes. But their favorite foods are animals — squirrels and rabbits.

The best thing about having a fox around is rodent control. They love mice, moles, voles, rats and a goose or other bird.

“Our” fox must have babies to feed, as he/she is getting bolder and bolder. She slinks along the lake, creeps up between houses, prospects in the compost pile for food scraps.

An extra ear of uneaten corn, some eggs of dubious worth due to two days without refrigeration, skin and meat scraps from some barbecue — all have disappeared from the compost recently without leaving so much as an eggshell or husk behind.

Experts advise homeowners not to allow cats to roam outside after dark for fear of foxes and other predators. A relative recently told me her father in Northern Virginia had just taken a video of a cat in a fight with a fox, and the fox was the one running at the end. I’d worry more about owls.

The gray fox’s main food competitors are the raccoon and coyote. The latter has been known to attack and eat fox babies. Other predators include great horned owls and bobcats. And man, always man.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at