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Red Foxes: Kings Park's Wild Canines

Learn about our elusive wild neighbor - the Red Fox!

 

Welcome to this installment of Kings Park Focus on Nature.

A few days ago I saw a Red Fox darting in front of me, across the trail I was running on in Sunken Meadow State Park. Wow - an amazing sight! So I was inspired to share with you some information about Vulpes vulpes,  the Red Fox, in this blog.

The Red Fox is a member of the canine family, which of course includes dogs. A typical Red Fox is, as the name implies, reddish orange in hue, with a mix of grey fur, white patches under the muzzle and throat, and feet and fore legs which are very dark brown to black. There are a number of color “morphs”, which occasionally occur as well. The end of the bushy tail is tipped in white. The tail accounts for nearly half the overall length of the adult fox, which ranges from 48” to 57”.  These features combine to make the fox a handsome mammal.

Foxes are successful creatures in part because of the many varieties of food they eat. They are primarily predators, eating mammals like mice, voles, rabbits, and squirrels. These prey are often taken with a stealthy stalk completed by a nearly vertical leap which brings them down on the target from above. Other food items include insects, reptiles, birds and their eggs, and fruit and berries. Even if not hungry, foxes will kill prey, and then store it in a cache for retrieval when the need arises.

As with many of our Long Island mammals, foxes are more active at night. They usually spend the daytime resting near their den. Dens are excavated from abandoned burrows started by smaller animals, which are enlarged by the fox. In our area these can often be found on hillsides, under a downed tree, stump, or rock. The entrance is typically recognizable from the large pile of earth and sand piled up from the foxes digging activity. Sometimes bones and other remains of prey items can be seen strewn in front of the burrow. For a view of a Red Fox den here in Kings Park, see the photographs that accompany this blog.

Foxes mate in late winter. The female fox (called a vixen) will give birth to as many as ten “kits”. The male fox (called a dog) hunts for and brings food to the female, who will in turn regurgitate food for the young kits as they begin to wean from her milk. Talk about being a devoted mother! These animals are social. Family groups consist of a dominant pair, and subordinate males and females, which are usually younger relatives. The subordinate animals assist in hunting for food for the kits and guarding the den. Eventually these subordinate foxes will move on to aquire their own territories and start family groups of their own.

 It is during the mating season that fox calls are most frequently heard, as at this time they are prospecting for mates or squabbling over territory. In the later case the fighting call is called “gekkering”, which is a series of staccato sounds. Foxes have numerous other calls that feature a rather otherworldly screeching tone.

 If while hiking in the woods you notice a strong “skunky” odor, you are probably catching a whiff of an area marked by a Red Fox’s urine, rather than a skunk. We do have skunks on Long Island, but they are uncommon, and found mostly on the eastern end of Long Island. Foxes use their urine to mark territory. Another sign of these rarely sighted animals is their scat. It is usually laden with fur, bones, feathers, seeds, and other indigestible matter, and deposited on top of stumps, logs, and rocks, often habitually.

There is another, much less common species of fox on Long Island – the Grey Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). This is a much smaller animal, with a length of 30” to 45” as an adult. It has an overall grey color, though it also has some reddish patches of fur like it’s larger cousin. The Grey Fox is similar in its life history to the Red Fox, but is noted for it’s more feline like behavior. This little canine, like a cat, is a very agile climber. The Grey Fox and Red Fox species do not interbreed. The Red Fox has expanded its range in the eastern United States in part due to the changes in the landscape wrought by man, and it out competes the Grey Fox for food and territory.

The Red Fox is a beautiful representative of our local wildlife. As mentioned above, I’ve seen them in Sunken State Park, Caleb Smith Sate Park, and Aurthur Kunz County Park. A diorama including a Red Fox is on display in the visitors center at Nissequougue River State Park visitors center, and at South Shore Nature Center in Islip. Accompanying this blog is a drawing I’ve done showing a fox atop a boulder in Kunz County Park and several photographs.  Keep your eyes and ears open for these small canines while enjoying our local natural areas and you just might have a thrilling encounter with one. See you on the trails!

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Linda Henninger March 04, 2012 at 11:56 AM
Hi Jan, So glad to read your article. Our neighborhood has a lovely red fox that calls its home here. I sometimes see him at dusk and my kids once noticed quite a large hole in the front yard, with fresh mounds of dirt around it all the time. It's still there, freshly dug almost every day. Way too big for a mole hole - maybe it's the fox. I thought I read that they often keep several dens in an area. Thanks again for the info - they are beautiful!
King Pedlar March 04, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Nice article, Jan. Last I saw of a Red Fox (as you described) was at Nissequogue River State Park Preserve about 10 years ago in back of the old Main Office, Bldg 125. The animal looked mangy, missing a good amount of hair on its back. Fox didn't seem so easily spooked as I tapped my walking stick on the ground. He just walked away, casually.
Peter Tumminello March 04, 2012 at 06:01 PM
that fox den has been there for decades....I grew up on Leaf Ct. and have intimite knowledge of those woods and all the trails. As kids we used to play army, build forts,hike/explore and camp throughout those hundreds of acres all day long. "Army" was actually played...acting out, running around, trying to out smart the enemy...no joysticks, no controller, no xbox]...REAL play. Anyway, just by chance, I happened upon that very fox den during one of our army games. Just outside the enterence, perhaps 2-3 ft. away was the skull and partial spine of another smaller animal and it appeared to be a fresh kill. I was probably 11-12 y.o. at the time so to my untrained eye the remains looked to me that of a small racoon or possum....over the years I have sort of forgotten where that den was until late last November...... while hiking with my son I did in fact notice a pile of "sand" that stood out amongst the dark brown leaves on the ground. As we headed off the trail to investigate I was certain that I was getting re aquainted with the ol' fox den and sure enough I was....there is approx a 40 year gap from when I first found it and recently rediscovering.....could not say if it is an active den now.....no prints, no droppings, no bones. Seeing deer back there is a pretty common nowadays....even saw a turkey [female] late December, the fox, more a nightime critter, remains illusive.
new guy March 04, 2012 at 08:40 PM
we see them at hoyt farm also.
Jan Porinchak March 05, 2012 at 10:19 PM
Wow, interesting to hear about how long the dens have been in that location. Apparently many generations of foxes have been using that site for dens for decades, if not longer! It's amazing what you can come across when enjoying the REAL outdoors, as you put it. Great that you could pass this knowledge on to your son.
Erik March 06, 2012 at 12:45 AM
THis Is Awesome Jan! Ive only seen one once as i was alking My GSD Ejay in a similar sitautioon where ithe fox suddenly ran oiut in front of us! Thak you for sharing this! i Erik
Ron Cento June 10, 2012 at 03:03 PM
Just spotted a Red Fox in Mt. Sinai! Right in my back yard! Our home is located near a wooded area off Canal Road and County Road 83. I ran for my camera but the fox was gone. The animal was of good size and seemed from a distance to be healthy with an even, tannish-red coat. Quite a sight!
Ron Cento June 10, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Intereseting sight. I wonder if anyone in this area has seen this fox or any other foxes around here. I've lived here for 33 years and have never seen one before. Stumbled upon this sight when I googled "red foxes" to find out what a fox would be foraging for in the woods in my back yard. The last encounter I had with a fox was in the late 1950"s in an area of high grass behind the old Whitman Lanes on Rt 110 in South Huntington. In those days foxes must surely have been attracted to the area because of a mink farm located nearby. A red fox almost ran into me as I was walking down a path behind the bowling alley. This area today is the sight of the Walt Whiman Mall.
Rick Gibson June 18, 2012 at 09:44 PM
Hi, I'm the Taxidermist that mounted both of those fox you describe. I am also the taxidermist for the South Shore nature center. Glad to see the picture of the one I did in the 1980's. .... Rick
William pattishall December 21, 2012 at 02:11 AM
Three times in the last month I have seen a red fox with blackish legs , red coat and beige face .this was on Hilden street, kings park , NY. The first time was in the afternoon . I opened the front door and saw him running down our driveway. The second time was 5:30 am. I was leaving for work turned on my car lights and saw him running up my street. The third was last night. He was eating cat food from under our boat when I saw him. I said hear boy and he stopped . I called my wife to see him and we started calling him like a dog. He kept darting up and down the driveway. We put some dog food out for him. He came to the top of the driveway to eat it but wouldn't let us near. He did sit on our front lawn for a while and look at us , but still not let us get close. We tried again and he ran into an empty lot next door and observed us for a while . Then was spooked of by a loud passing car.
Ginny Laskaris February 12, 2013 at 06:17 PM
I saw one a couple of weeks ago on the LIE service road heading east near Commack Road. And, sadly, it was dead. Road kill. I couldn't believe my eyes as I did not know they were in the area and Googled the question...only to learn in this blog that they are!
Bill Konkel February 25, 2013 at 05:43 PM
Have two living in our back yard. They pass along the back of the property on almost a daily basis. Am concerned that they might be sick as I see them frequently during the day. I thought they foraged mostly at night. Bill K. Dix Hills PS saw the one on the service road also & thought it might have been one of my pair but I still see both of mine.
Jan Porinchak February 25, 2013 at 10:25 PM
Hi Ginny, Yes, unfortunately we often realize we have some interesting wildlife in our area as a result of seeing them D.O.R. Fox populations fluctuate in response to availability of food (especially mice, voles, rabbits). Speaking from personal and anecdotal experience, I think we are seeing an increase of Red Foxes. BTW, we do not have coyotes, yet. But I think within the next ten years or less they will be on Long Island. Glad the blog was helpful. Please check out the recent one on Opossums!
Jan Porinchak February 25, 2013 at 10:29 PM
Bill, Yes, Foxes tend to be nocturnal (as is the case with most of our native mammals) however I would not be too concerned about the foxes being sick. They probably have a den in the vicinity, and the fence line / property line in your back yard is a very active game trail they are using to transit through their territory. You can check the NYS DEC website for information on signs of rabies in mammals. But I think in this case you have no worries. They are just comfortable traveling through your yard!
Nina Cohen March 09, 2013 at 01:20 AM
My Husband and I just spotted a Red Fox in a wooded area in my back yard in Commack. He walked by twice today. We are very worried now because we have 2 small dogs. Our property is very large and even though we have a fence we are afraid we wouldn't get to them in time. Can somebody tell me who I'm can call to report this.
Jan Porinchak March 24, 2013 at 12:37 AM
Hi Nina, Thanks for your interest in my blog. I admit, I'm a little taken aback by the concern you express in your note. To myself, it would be awesome experience to see a wild creature such as a Red Fox in my backyard, and not a cause for alarm or worry. When going into the outdoors, we are in the natural world, and mother nature is in charge. You cannot control all all the animals and plants and their interactions, and when mankind tries to do so, usually this results in environmental havoc. So, rather than worry, please enjoy the wildlife that you are blessed with in your very own backyard. After all, isn't that why you have a yard? Now, as to your worries about your dogs, I would not be concerned about a fox harming them. You don't say how small the dogs are, but unless they are really tiny, a fox would be no threat. If anything, the fox would be wary of your dogs, and avoid them. In answer to your question, there is no agency to call about wild creatures simply going about their business outdoors. Animal Control would only act in the case of a clearly rabid or otherwise dangerous animal. These Foxes you describe are just living their lives as nature intended, outdoors and free. Thanks for your comments.
Marie April 05, 2013 at 07:13 PM
Hi Jan, I am so excited to find your site. I just saw a red fox run across my front lawn, they are beautiful !. My neighbors have been telling me they have seen them for a while but this was a first for me. i am LOADED with voles and moles, I hope they eat them all. I have lost so many plants due to them. I live in Farmingville,behind a park off of Portion Road. I have seen them in the park when I was walking my dog.They were more afraid of me than I was of them. Thanks for the info Marie L
Jan Porinchak April 07, 2013 at 10:22 PM
Hi Marie, Thank you very much for the compliments about my blog, and I'm very glad it is helping my neighbors like you understand and appreciate our natural world. You can bet the foxes will be picking off your resident moles and voles! The blog about the Foxes has been very popular, and I've just added 4 new photographs by Stephen Nash. Check them out!
pat clark April 12, 2013 at 02:49 AM
I saw a small fox hiding behind a pine tree on the edge of a hollow. A neighborhood cat was being followed by it. I live near the mall in bayshore. I think it was a grey fox b/c it was colored like my dog that looks like a wolf. More gray and tan muted. It was kind of creepy b/c I knew something was bothering the cat and it wasn't us.I turn around and see the fox and we startled it. I yelled and we chased it back to the woods. Now that big Kitty is always over by that pine tree. He's looking for trouble. His owners keep him outside. I hope he and the fox stop interacting. Foxy needs to stay in the woods! I love all animals but a fox is not harmless. They can live in your shed or in a pile of dead trees.They can kill your cats and carry rabies. Funny thing, that night a lot of frogs were singing at the bottom of the hollow but as soon as that fox turned back to the woods it became deathly silent. It is comforting to know we still have them. I have also seen them in back of West Islip Highschool and Gardiner's Park in Bayshore.
Jan Porinchak April 14, 2013 at 01:49 PM
Hi Pat, I'm glad you found "Kings Park Focus on Nature" interesting. Congratulations on your sighting of what might have been a Grey Fox. They are very uncommon on Long Island. Your comment highlights a very real issue - the interaction of pets and wildlife. You point out that your neighbors keep their cat outdoors. Recent studies by field biologists have shown that domestic cats are a major predator of wild animals, especially birds. You mention that "Foxy needs to stay in the woods", but in reality, "Kitty" needs to stay in the house! Our native wildlife was "here" first, and for the well being of wildlife and our pets, the pets should be kept in doors and supervised. Negative interactions of wildlife and pets would be the fault of the pet owner for not respecting that boundary. Also, as you point out, domestic animals and wild animals can infect or injure each other. This would be another reason I would recommend pet owners keep their pets leashed and or indoors as appropriate. Thanks again for your interest in my blog!
Pat Caruso April 16, 2013 at 06:54 PM
April 16, 2013 Yep I also had a red fox in my backyard. My property backs up to Sunken Meadow State Park and I also have had deer in my backyard as well. The deer were absolutely beautiful ... the fox was a little scary because it came right up to my house and was looking around. It was about 9 am in the morning. I have a 9 pound little dog and am concerned the fox has spotted it. I usually let my dog out early in the morning before the sun comes up .... (we are early risers) ... but am afraid to let her out now early in the morning. In fact, I now wait until the sun comes up and then go out with her in the backyard ... just in case. Pat C, Fort Salonga, NY
pmhuntington July 08, 2013 at 09:56 PM
Heading to West Hills dog run (Sweet Hollow Road, north of Northern Parkway; Huntington) this warm July evening (last light), I saw a large canine (bigger than my Husky mix), perhaps a red fox (white tail tip, long, solid body, darker head) disappear into the brush just south of the paddock near the dog run. First Huntington sighting in 20-odd years! Pretty thrilling. Peter McG., Huntington
Jan Porinchak July 09, 2013 at 10:57 AM
This is interesting. It doesn't surprise me that foxes are in the West Hills area. But your comparison of the size to your Husky dog has me wondering if you've seen a coyote! The first confirmed siting of a coyote took place in the Hamptons this past spring, and there was a report of a large wild canine in the Smithtown area two weeks ago. Coyote populations have been edging closer to our area in recent years, and their arrival hear on Long Island is not totally unexpected. Thanks for your interesting report!

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