“Catch for us the foxes”
“Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards” (Song of Solomon 2:15). This verse from the Old Testament, written nearly 3,000 years ago, testifies to the long history of conflicts between foxes and humans. The word “fox” is often synonymous with “thief”; in the days when most people were involved in farming, theft of poultry and young farm animals by foxes was a constant threat.
Though most of us no longer have to worry about foxes stealing our chickens, foxes are present in every county in Michigan and can still be a danger to domesticated pets and poultry. Michigan is home to two species of fox: the red fox and the gray fox. We have handled fox calls in every area in southeastern Michigan, from Lansing and Okemos to South Lyon, from Fenton down to Monroe.
Life of the Red Fox
Red foxes make their homes in areas with fallow and cultivated fields, meadows, bushy fence lines, woody stream borders, and low shrub cover along woods and beaches. They can also be found in suburban and, less commonly, urban areas where food is readily available. They range over a wide area, usually 5 miles, but this range may be larger in flatter regions with less forest.
The red fox resembles a small dog, with the head and body typically around two feet long. The tail is long and bushy and always tipped in white. They can also be identified with the black fur around their feet, known as “black socks.” Their fur is a rusty orange color, giving rise to their name. The insides of the ears, lips, chest and belly are always a creamy white color. From a distance they may be mistaken for a cat.
The red fox is primarily nocturnal in nature, meaning they are most active at night. They are most commonly observed during early morning or late evening, but can also be observed during the day, especially in open areas.
Foxes typically use ground burrows or “dens” which provide both shelter and a safe area for raising young. Occasionally, two fox “families” will share the same den. Dens are often located in well-drained, dry areas. Dens can be found in fence rows, in the middle of fields, on woodland edges, ridges, or any place that can provide shelter. Fox dens typically have two or more openings, and can be created by excavating woodchuck (groundhog) or even badger holes.
Breeding typically takes place during the winter and the pair works together to prepare a nursery den. The female gives birth after 51 – 53 days to a litter of an average of five pups (though litters are often larger or smaller). Pups can be born as early as February and as late as late-May. Pups are born helpless and covered with gray-brown, fuzzy fur, but still possess the characteristic white-tipped tail. Pups open their eyes at about 10 days, venture from the den around 20 days, and are weaned at around 60 days (2 months). At this time, the adults bring food to the pups at the den, and often animal parts can be found strewn around the entrance. At around 120 days (4 months), the pups are nearly full-grown and are actively hunting on their own. Male pups begin to venture further from the den site first and dispersal into new territory occurs in the fall and winter, typically October to January. The pups are fully grown by winter and are able to mate and reproduce.
Foxes, like most members of the Canidae (dog) family, are opportunistic and will eat nearly anything available. Foxes are usually solitary hunters as adults and are highly mobile, foraging in an extensive area. They will eat insects, fruits, berries, birds, frogs, snakes, plants, and seeds, as readily as small mammals such as mice, voles, shrews, rabbits, and squirrels. Foxes have been known to eat small mammals up to the size of a woodchuck or, rarely, beaver. Foxes will also feed on carrion (dead animals) or even house cats if the opportunity arises. Foxes can also be attracted to garbage, garden vegetables, and pet foods.
The other fox common to Michigan is the gray fox. This fox is generally smaller than the red fox and can be identified by its black-tipped tail (as opposed to the white-tipped tail of the red fox) and its lack of “black socks” on its lower legs. The fur of the gray fox is an earthy brownish color with hints of bluish silver. They have shorter legs than the red fox and move much closer to the ground. For this reason they are not seen as frequently, as they are more easily concealed in brush or tall grass. Unlike the red fox, the gray fox is equipped with sharp, curved claws which enable it to climb trees in order to escape predators, such as the coyote. The diet of the gray fox is similar to that of the red fox, though it generally will eat more vegetation.
During the breeding season, foxes can be drawn into areas by pet dogs in heat. Usually, they will not attempt to breed or harm a pet dog but are curious as to what the animal is. Similarly, when dispersing into new territory, foxes may be observed in areas they have not been seen before. If they are not made welcome, they will avoid the area, as they are ideally looking for a safe place to set up a territory.
Foxes do not pose a significant risk to humans or pets. Bites from domestic dogs are a far greater risk than an attack from foxes or any other wild animal, according to public health authorities. However, wild animals that lose their fear of humans can present a risk to small pets and themselves. People should never intentionally feed or attempt to tame wildlife. It is in the best interest of both the animals and humans if wildlife retain their instinctive fear of people.
Surprisingly, few wildlife control firms have the experience to be consistently successful in fox removal. Trapping foxes is a specialized field where a lack in attention to detail or preparation and failure go hand and hand. This is tedious work often requiring tracking skills which are a lost art in most parts of the country. Hear at Creature Control we have expert trappers that are capable of dealing with any number of fox problems. Live capture and relocation is preferred, but not always practical because of the long distance relocation necessary to keep them from returning. In most states (like Michigan and Ohio) moving wildlife over county lines is illegal and this is often the dilemma when attempting to relocate long ranging foxes. If you have a problem with foxes don’t hesitate to call – we are happy to educate clients on the best approach and offer free over the phone consultation.