The Urban Fox
Each year Mississauga Animal Services receives many calls concerning foxes that have taken up residence on or near residential properties. The Red Fox has adapted very well to the "Urban Lifestyle". Over the years, foxes have learned that food and shelter are abundant in our neighbourhoods. While foxes are normally timid animals, they are becoming accustomed to humans and will often lose their fear of us as their natural predators.
WHERE DO THEY LIVE?
Foxes prefer open, grassy regions such as farms and hydro corridors, with bushy fence lines and woody stream borders. The park-like valleys of the rivers which flow into Lake Ontario have provided an excellent habitat. They usually take over the dens of smaller animals like the groundhog. They will also make their dens in hollowed out trees. They may have more than one den site and will move on a regular basis if disturbed. The City of Mississauga has rapidly developed much of our farmland and forested areas over the last few years. This has forced the foxes to abandon their natural homes and move closer to human activity. In an urban environment they will make their homes under decks, sheds and woodpiles in our own backyards.
WHAT DO THEY EAT?
Foxes are omnivores but their diet consists mainly of meat. They prefer small rodents, frogs, insects and snakes but will also eat plant material such as acorns, corn and berries. Foxes play a very important role in rodent control. In fact, it has been discovered, that if fox populations are reduced from an area, rodents soon become over populated. Urban foxes living within residential areas may prey on cats, rabbits and small livestock. Bird feeders attract squirrels which, in turn, may attract foxes. Dogs are considered a natural enemy of the fox, however, a fox may confront or attack a small dog for territorial reasons rather than a food source. Improperly stored garbage will also attract rodents, the natural prey of foxes.
Adult foxes have long silky rusty reddish coloured fur with black tipped ears, legs and tail. The chest and belly is a creamy colour. The fur of the young is short, thick and lighter in colour than the adults. Adult foxes can reach a length of 3.6 feet with a tail measuring 13.8 to 16.5 inches. The average weight usually ranges from 8 to 15 pounds, however, individuals have been recorded at 30 pounds.
LONGEVITY: Foxes can live up to 12 years, however, in the wild three to four years is the average lifespan.
BREEDING: Foxes breed once a year and the babies are born in the Spring. The gestation period is 51-53 days. There are usually five babies in one litter. Foxes breed as monogamous pairs and usually remain together unless one is killed. Both parents take part in the rearing of the young. The kits are weaned at five weeks of age and they remain with the parents until the fall. Generally the parents raise the young in a natal den site and by mid-July the parents will relocate the young to another location. This area will afford the family a larger area and allow the parents to teach the young to hunt.
Foxes are usually solitary animals, outside of the breeding season and prefer to hunt alone. Other than the breeding season, foxes are not overly territorial. It is common to see a fox out during the day sunning itself or hunting. They are most active at dawn or dusk. Foxes do not hibernate and are quite active during the winter. The great level of alertness of the red fox and its keen sense of smell and hearing enable it to live close to human habitation without being easily noticed. However, during late spring and early summer foxes are readily noticed due to increased activity. This is due to the fact that much more hunting is required to feed the family, also the young may stray further from the den site. In habitats where coyotes are present, foxes prefer to live in close proximity with humans as a means of protection. Coyotes are one of the foxes main predators as are hawks, owls, dogs and man. Foxes are highly adaptable, curious and intelligent, their ability to hunt and live deep within the City is evidence of this fact. Foxes communicate vocally and are capable of a variety of noises ranging from high pitched yips to eerie screeches and cries.
WHAT ABOUT RABIES?
At one time, foxes were one of the main carriers of rabies in North America. However, through extensive oral baiting programs, the Ministry of Natural Resources has almost eradicated rabies from this area. This may also explain our increased, healthy, fox population.
While it is quite common for a fox to be out during the day ( they enjoy sunny afternoon naps) it is not normal for a fox to be stationary for long periods of time. Other signs of illness may include staggering, falling down, inability to walk, hind-end paralysis, seizuring, unprovoked aggression, biting at its own limbs, attacking inanimate objects or excessive drooling.
CO-EXISTING WITH FOXES
As a rule foxes are generally shy animals and prefer to avoid confrontations with people. However, urbanized foxes rarely view humans as predators. They are not interested in contact with us but they have learned to share the City with us. Often they are quite comfortable in the presence of people. By following a few simple tips, listed below, we can learn to coexist with foxes and avoid negative interaction.
NEVER FEED FOXES!
- Do not try to hand feed.
- Do not leave food outside.
- Do not feed your pet outside.
- Do not feed the birds in Spring through Fall. This attracts natural prey for foxes, such as squirrels, birds and rodents.
- Garbage should be stored in sealed wildlife-proof containers and placed at the curb on day of pick up. Dumpsters must be emptied regularly and closed at night. Compost properly and never compost meat products!
- Do not house livestock or poultry in your yard.
- Keep your cats indoors!!! Walk your dog on a leash at all times. Never let your pets roam at large.
- Do not leave debris piling up in the yard. Cover wood piles or store them in an enclosed shed. Seal openings beneath decks sheds and patios.
- Teach your children about animal safety and respect for nature. Common sense and the law dictate that you never leave infants or very young children unattended.
If you are in an area known to have a fox den or fox activity...
- Be aware and cautious during the spring when the parents may be protecting the den site or the young.
- Keep away from the den site area.
- Carry a flashlight, umbrella or personal alarm to scare foxes away if they cross your path.
- Discourage their presence in your yard with loud noises or a blast from the hose. (Summer only)
- If you currently have an outdoor cat keep it inside. If this is not possible keep your cat indoors during key activity hours of dusk until noon.