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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.

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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