Animal Guide: Red Fox

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

  • Type: Mammal
  • Family: Canidae
  • Habitat: Highly variable. Edge forests, deserts, tundra, cities, and suburban areas
  • Location: Most of the Northern Hemisphere and Australia
  • Diet: Rodents, birds, insects, carrion and fruit
  • Average lifespan in the wild: 3 years in the wild; 10-12 years in captivity
  • Size: Head and body 18-35.4 in (45.5-90 cm); tail 11.8-21.8 in (30-55.5 cm)
  • Weight: 6.6-30.8 lbs (3-14 kg)

The small, slender bodies of red foxes are designed for speed and agility. In proportion to other canid species, red foxes have longer legs and smaller stomachs — adaptations that allow the animal to run nearly 30 miles per hour. A smaller stomach means they need to eat more often, and red foxes opportunistically eat a wide variety of foods as they traverses their home range at night, such as insects, fruits, earthworms, and scraps left by humans. Although they also hunt during the day, red foxes have very acute senses to help them succeed as nocturnal predators. Their eyes are designed to work well in low light conditions, and they maneuver their erect triangular ears to locate the faint rustling noises of rodents. When a mouse is detected, red foxes stand alert and motionless, using their ears and eyes to pinpoint the location of the rodent. Then they launch themselves into the air at a 45-degree angle, and land on the mouse, pinning it to the ground.

Red foxes are territorial, and mark their home range using feces and urine. A dominance hierarchy determines who breeds, and the dominant female gives birth each year to a litter of 3 to 12 pups. Mothers keep their offspring in dens, and non-breeding adults help care for the young. There are several different red fox color variants, which can often be seen within a litter. These include the silver, black, and cross variants. All red foxes have thick fur, a wide, bushy tail, and a narrow, pointed muzzle.

Red foxes have the largest distribution of any canid species. They can be found in almost the entire northern hemisphere, in part because they have such a diverse diet. As a species, red foxes have adapted well to human expansion. They thrive in urban areas, and have benefited from the human conversion of forest into agricultural lands. Red foxes are often seen as a threat to poultry and young livestock, even though they usually prey only on weak and sick animals. Though many farmers consider them pests, red foxes play a major role in controlling populations of crop-threatening animals like rabbits and rodents.

Did you know: Red fox predators are eagles, coyotes, gray wolves, bears, mountain lions, and humans, who have been hunting red foxes since the 4th century BC.

Photo by Otmar Penker © ORF / Die ARGEntur Filmproduktions GmbH

  • meghan

    This helped with my project

  • gwen thompson

    Great artical. I have a question. I have a couple of small dogs. We have erected a caged dog run it stands arounr1.6 metres high. Can the fox climb this type of structure? Kindest Regards Gwen.

  • lamiayh

    hi i am doin a report `on da red fox nd i lik it

  • margaret Redviers

    Great description Q. why do they bark? Their piercing bark or call, goes on for an hour each night, I have a pair on my land and want to know what they are communicating. Thank you.

  • Jamie Booth

    Are foxes afraid of people and horses? Also I have 2 small dogs, will the fox try to hurt them?

  • dave

    we have a fox who keeps coming into the garden and digging a hole we fill it in and the next day it is back and digs in the same place what can i do to stop it

  • B. Massey

    I have seen a red fox run through my yard. Yesterday it was inside a fenced pool area. We have an abundance of squirrels and chipmunks that have become pests. Will the fox help control the pests or is it a danger to humans?

  • Bruce Kennedy

    I have the same question as B Massey #7.

    Are they a danger to humans.
    Thanks

  • carol reich

    saw red fox in backyard about 1:30 pm are they nocturnal? could he be rabid? do they eat the blossom on daylilies?

  • Jane Pieton

    I was walking my dog a few nights ago, when I saw a fox watching us from a long dark driveway. My dog and I kept walking down the road and the fox started gingerly following us. Everytime we stopped, he stopped. We played this little game down the road and back again. I was calling out to the little fox and whistling softly to him as u would a puppy. He was so sweet, I was hoping he would follow me home. My question, Is this normal behavior for a fox? Have you ever heard of such a thing?

  • Anita Colliere

    My house backs up to park land and I heard this awful crying like screech it was almost like a baby crying. I searched my yard for an injured animal and found a red fox in my back yard. What was the crying for? Also, as I was sitting on my back patio a fox came up to me as close as 4 feet away. I moved and it ran off. My question is is it normal for a fox to be out in the daytime?
    Thanks,
    Anita

  • dianne puryear

    everyone in our subdivision is seeing a fox or fox’s daily. they come into the yards in the park area around the ball fields–seem to have no fear of humans
    i have heard that some red fox’s do have a type of rabies that sometimes causes them to be overly friendly? do you know of this? also i have a 5 ft fence and 3 small dogs–are they in danger if inside the fence? last week a fox bite a girl trying to get to her cat–it had rabies. i live in bham ala. thank you

  • dianne puryear

    i have heard that some red fox’s do have a type of rabies that sometimes causes them to be overly friendly? do you know of this? also i have a 5 ft fence and 3 small dogs–are they in danger if inside the fence? last week a fox bite a girl trying to get to her cat–it had rabies. i live in bham ala. thank you

  • ed

    thank-you helped a lot with my oral presentation

  • molly

    awesome helped me lotz on my report!!!

  • Tami

    Ive caught a red fox with my hands once. I dunno i saw him chased him and got him….im native indian so were nuts like that lol. Anyway he was sly and didnt move bite or yell as he sat on my lap while i plucked the vast amount of ticks and burs off him. I let him go, he ran off stopped looked back then cooly walked away. Now he is full grown and hangs about the area. In the back of my house today i saw a lovely family of deer and there was foxy, calmly walking past them. At nite sometimes their calls are kinda spooky, sounding like a screaming woman at times but they are mating and simply locating each other. They are not necessarily nocturnal animals but they do hunt mostly at nite while they graze and strut around during the day. As for dogs, dogs mark their territories so they wont go near them and if they do they most likely wont attack. These animals wont prey on other animals bigger than them. Plus they enjoy vegetation as much as they do meat and can be scavengers just the same. On the whole, they are peaceful calm creatures that u can allow to wonder around u without being attacked. Like i said, today foxy was two feer from a young deer and didnt even bother it. It was cute. As far as rabies go, they wont get friendly just it makes them confused and they will come closer to humans. Rabies also come easier to wild animals who live in an area where there are more people. I live in the middle of nowhere in outer philly so they are safe. And as for foxes controlling the squirrel population, well, we have lots of them and i havent seen any signs that foxy has been eating them, however the rabbit family that resides under my bushes each year hasnt been seen in quite a while. I let my kitties out and have no issues but i know foxy eats my trash at nite:)

  • triuan

    this is so interesting it helped

  • judy

    At last–an answer to the “big” question: what is ripping the heads off my chickens and leaving the body behind. Last summer we heard a chicken ruckus in the yard early one morning. Figuring it was just chickens being territorial, we didn’t do anything about it. You can imagine how we felt when we left to go to church……….and saw all but one of our chickens decapitated, scattered all over the yard, as if they had tried to get away. There was very little blood, some feathers, and not one head to be found. We couldn’t figure out how, or what kind of animal could so cleanly rip a chickens neck off, taking the head and leaving the body. It kinda sounds like a group of foxes–or would one running around do this kind of damage itself? Last night it happened again, but to a chicken we thought was in a locked pen behind a 6.5′ fence…..was my husband remiss and didn’t lock the pen, or can foxes climb/jump a fence that height? I noticed others have asked this question, but have not seen an answer yet! Also, I have seen questions as to the safety of 15 pound dogs, but not a clear answer. If the fox is 30 pounds, a 15 pound dog is not safe, but if the fox is 10 pounds, it probably is? I would appreciate knowing, because we let our pup out in the middle of the night, and we haven’t been putting a leash on him……..Thanks!

  • alexus

    i love the red fox

  • Vivian

    I have the same questions posted under Judy Dec. 30, 2009
    Can they climb? is a 6.5 fence safe?
    Is it true that if you bring them away ( 10 miles at least ) they will find back anyway?

  • lisa2002

    You were helping me on my procect.

  • emily

    they can jump 6-7 feet high with ease.

  • Peach.girl.

    Wow. . . some people have a lot of time on their hands to write those big comments. Good job! Hahaa anyways, thanks for posting this. It really helped. . .except i still dont know what the dominant color is for foxes. :/ Thanks again

  • Daniel

    A most fascinating article and interesting responses. My question is has Humankind’s encroachment over the last several thousand years determined the species Circadian Rhythms and Hunting Patterns? Adaptation at its best!
    Thank-you very much indeed Chuck Darwin

  • elizabeth

    Raccoons will get into chicken coops and rip the heads off chickens – it is possible you had raccoons, as foxes like to eat chicken.

  • Carolyn

    I saw a Red Fox on the road near my house this morning in Gig Harbor, WA. Beautiful long, full tail, and was much bigger than I expected. The Fox did not seem too afraid but was curiously watching me as I stopped my car to watch him. He walked down the road behind me and turned to look back at me twice.

  • Mimi

    This helped me a lot on my project. Thanks for the upload of this website. I’ve seen a fox before in Centennial camp it came by this water that build up after the rain….I think it came by for a sip, but other kids had to scare it off, I felt sorry for it, it must had traveled very far and didn’t even get to drink.

  • jacob

    I need some help the red fox adaptations.

  • TINA C

    WE HAVE TWO RED FOXES BEHIDE MY HOUSE I HAVE TWO SMALL DOGS ARE THEY OK . WILL THE FOXES TRY TO EAT THEM?

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  • karin johnson

    reply to- judy says:
    December 30, 2009 at 8:58 pm
    If I ever found a 30lb fox I would be afraid …VERY afraid.
    My cats weigh more than most fox do (our 3 cats are from 9-15lbs). I am refering to red fox in our area and not sure of other fox varieties…..I

  • Amber

    To answer Judy, and anyone who has had their chickens’ heads ripped off, it’s not a fox. It’s a weasel (and that may explain the perpetrator’s ability to climb a 6.5′ fence). They should always be fully fenced/protected from floor to ceiling at night to avoid such disasters. If they free range during the day, like ours, that’s another matter.

    We just had a fox attack our chickens last week, and it got three of them (one roo went missing, one roo died in the night from wounds, and a hen was killed on the spot) before I saw what was happening and ran out to scare it off. It was midday, incidentally. Look up more info @ backyardchickens.com forum and you’ll find more info on foxes.

  • http://biztonsagikamera.wordpress.com Kamerarendszerek

    There is obviously a lot to know on this topic. I think you made some good points here also. Keep up the great work!

  • rick

    re: Jeff Newhouse
    You probably have Coon problems not Fox. A Coon will rip out the throat of a chicken just to get to the craw where they store food before digesting, they will leave the chicken and the head seperated.

  • Denise

    I have a fox that started coming around at night maybe since around 2 wks ago..It comes out at night over in my yard and eats my cats food, while my cats are outside watching the fox eat..Will the fox end up bothering the cats or just comes to eat and leave. So far that’s what the fox has been doing..The poor thing is soooooo skinny. Every night my dog senses it’s out there. When I chain my dog up to see what’s out there.. the fox runs across the street and waits for us to go back inside and then comes back over and eats. I feel if there is no food out there for it, then it will attack my cats. I say ..IT, cause i don’t know if it’s male or female. So far it seems harmless. It’s not that old. I would think from day one the fox would have attacked my cats by now..So far so good. I’m not sure what kind of fox it is..It’s reddish, black gray fur mixed..I think it is…IT runs fast and I look out the window to get a better look at it and I can’t really tell the color. I apologize for the long letter, but I would like to know if it will end up being dangerous.
    Thank you

  • Pam Sweeney

    Yesterday at about 5 pm I drove home from work to find yet another interesting wild animal scene to digest. My 15 pound bengal-occicat, Mango was in a neighbor’s yard with a youngish light reddish fox–just a bit bigger than he is. They were standing, staring at each other about 10 feet apart-no ruffled fur, teeth or snarls evident. Since Mango spends a good part of the day wrestling and playing with our under-ten-pound chihuahua mix, I was concerned that that was what he had in mind.My honking and cursing broke the spell, Mango ran toward Foxy, then decided that he didn’t like the nearness of my car and veered off. Foxy was undecided about what to do-looked at me (big honking car) and at the retreating cat, then loped off in no big hurry up the hill-(to where I shortly thereafter learned that a neighbor had left her door open to feed a semi-feral, semi-friendly cat who hangs around.) Apparently the neighbors know of the presence of this fox-who is known to have a taste for cat food. He was possibly a bit pissed off at the world in the few days since the loud invasion of the county fire crew whacking down the grasses. My concern is about rabies–and about cat-fox relationships in general.

  • Nicole :)

    I was doing a report also on the red fox and I found this website very helpful. Thank you for the extra information! Wish me look on my paper, Hope I get an A. :)

  • Mary H.

    I have seen several foxes together for the last few years in a ravine behind my house. On one occasion 2 of them appeared to be siblings. I researched as much info on the internet that I could. Your article and replies help in the info that I gathered. I just happened to think that there are no rabbits in the area like there use to be. Also, there doesn’t seem to be as many raccoons. We have had sightings of coyotes, so the coyotes may be going after these smaller animals as well. It is rare that a cat will be out. Sightings of the foxes are during the day. The coyote was on my deck at about 10 pm.

  • http://wikipedia.com Gabby

    I have a mother red fox and two babies is it normal for them to come out in the daytime is it because something chases it or is it hunting something and I have a cat and a kitten my big cat goes out side Is it safe for my big cat to be outside or should I keep him inside and the foxes ran across my neighbors yard but one of the babies got left. Behind and couldn’t find it’s way back to it’s mom but it ran up my road and hid in the bushes will they come back out again in the daytime

  • Deb

    I have a fox family on my 20 acres with a 5 acre pond. However, they are hanging around the house and their cries are loud and scary. Are my cats safe at night? Can I relax knowing that they are hanging around my house? Why is this fox crying so close to my house?

  • trisha vani

    We have 3 acres and have 4 red fox they come up to the house day and night we have a small dog and 5 small grand children how can we get read of them. Thank you for your time.

  • Nancy Newman

    We have a young fox in our area that is completely devoid of hair. This has happened in the past also – poor thing came up to our yard looking for bread thrown out to the birds – there were ice cicles hanging from it’s body. What can be done to help the new hairless fox? Is this a mange? Is it some infection that is kept current in the den?

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  • bobby hicks

    love site make me happy

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  • Boomboxer

    What’s worng with you?!

    Lionheart says:
    October 4, 2011 at 2:43 pm
    Shoot it.

    Nancy Newman says:
    August 12, 2011 at 4:28 pm

    We have a young fox in our area that is completely devoid of hair. This has happened in the past also – poor thing came up to our yard looking for bread thrown out to the birds – there were ice cicles hanging from it’s body. What can be done to help the new hairless fox? Is this a mange? Is it some infection that is kept current in the den?

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  • anonymous

    This is an awesome site! I love foxes and love to find new sites! This one will be great for my research!

  • saddogowner

    Yesterday a fox attacked our pom-a-poo, right in our front yard, took her to a wood-lined area, and proceeded to make a meal of her… It tore a big chunk of her insides out before we found it and chased it away. Although our poor dog was still alive, she was struggling to breathe and barely hanging on. We ended up having to put her to sleep, because she was 13 years old, and the vet advised at her age, she only had about a 5 % chance of surviving all the surg she would require to fix her up.
    Aside from our whole family being heartbroken about out beloved dog, I am concerned about other dogs and children in the area. We don’t know if the fox is rabid, the game commission won’t come out and do anything, and said they can’t test it unless it is already dead. ??? makes no sense to me…
    A neighbor told me that now that it has been brave enough to attack a dog and tasted it, it will be more eager to do it again. Is this true? Do I need to put out warnings in my neighborhood?

  • nancy

    I chose this site to find answers about the fox in our area for my daughter. We did not find an episode on the fox or an article. What we noticed were A LOT of questions about fox in back yards etc. But no answers? Are the answers emailed to the “commentor” are they a secret….or is there no one in charge of answering the questions on this thread? I see some thank you’s from kids doing projects….but what about the answers? I didn’t post my daughters question since it had already been asked before with no posted answer. I appreciate the idea of the website and who contributes…..but where is the person responsible for on line questions?

  • Francine Fabozzi

    This morning, March14,2013, my son and I witnessed a fox giving birth in an open field behind our house. Is this normal? If not, what would cause this? It was about 6:45 a.m.
    She birthed one, carried it off. Came back to the same spot and birthed another.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you! This is PERFECT for my project!

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