Foxes

Identification | Biology | Damage ID | Management | Resources

Figure 1a. Red fox (Vulpes vulpes). Photo by Di Laubenstein, US-Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). 
Figure 1b. Gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). 
Photo by Brandon M. Jones. 

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain the differences among fox species. 
  2. Explain elements about the biology of foxes that are important for their control. 
  3. Explain the options for control to clients.  

Identification

The red fox (Vulpes vulpes, Figure 1a) is the most common species of fox that is native to North America. Most problems of depredation are associated with red foxes, although gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus, Figure 1b) cause problems in some areas. Other species (kit fox [V. macrotis], swift fox [V. velox], and arctic fox [Alopex lagopus]) may cause site-specific damage, but they usually are not associated with depredation of livestock or poultry.  

Legal Status

Foxes are listed as protected fur-bearers or game animals in most states. Most state wildlife agencies allow for the taking of foxes to protect private property. Check state regulations before initiating control.  

Physical Description

Red foxes are dog-like in appearance with an elongated, pointed muzzle and large, pointed ears that usually are erect and forward. They have moderately long legs and long, thick, soft body fur with a bushy tail (Figure 1a). Typically, red foxes are colored with a light orange-red coat, black legs, lighter under-fur, and a white-tipped tail. Silver and cross foxes are color phases of red foxes. Gray foxes generally are salt-and-pepper gray with buffy underfur. The sides of the neck, back of the ears, legs, and feet are rusty yellow. The tail is long and bushy with a black tip.  

Red foxes weigh 8 to 15 pounds, with males about 2 pounds heavier than females. They are 34 to 62 inches from nose to tip of the tail. Gray foxes weigh 7 to 13 pounds and are 32 to 45 inches from nose to tail. 

Species Ranges

The ranges of foxes often are limited by coyotes and wolves, which intimidate and kill foxes. Numbers of red foxes have decreased as the range of coyotes has expanded. Red foxes occur throughout most of North America with the exception of southern California, Arizona, central Texas, and isolated areas (Figure 2a).  

Gray foxes occupy the eastern, northcentral, and southwestern US and Mexico (Figure 2b). Their numbers are not impacted by coyotes to the same degree as red foxes, as gray foxes spend more time in wooded areas. 

Kit foxes live in arid habitats, from extreme southern Oregon and Idaho south along the Baja Peninsula and eastward through southwestern Texas and northern Mexico. 

Figure 2a. Distribution of the red fox in North America. Image by Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage (PCWD). 
Figure 2b. Distribution of the gray fox in North America. Image by PCWD. 

Swift foxes are restricted to the central high plains in Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado (Figure 2c). Arctic foxes occur in northern Canada and Alaska. They have been introduced on a number of islands in the Aleutian chain of Alaska (Figure 2c).  

Figure 2c. Distribution of the kit fox (light), swift fox (medium dark), and) artic fox (very dark) in North America. Image by Stephen M. Vantassel. 

Voice and Sounds

Foxes vocalize using a variety of calls. They bark, scream, howl, yap, growl, and make sounds similar to a hiccup. During winter, males often emit a yelling bark (“œwo-wo-wo”) that may be an important territorial warning for other males. 

Tracks and Signs

It can be difficult to distinguish a track of a fox from the tracks of other canids (i.e. dogs, Figure 3). Size and foot-fall patterns are the most important demarcation. Trails of wild animals tend to be straight, while trails of domesticated animals tend to meander and zigzag.  

Figure 3. Comparison of tracks of canids.  
Image by PCWD.