Spend Summer with Lakeside Volunteer
Both red foxes
(Vulpes vulpes) and gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) live
in the Kansas City area. Lakeside Nature Center is more likely
to admit red foxes because they have adapted better to the urban
environment. Gray foxes prefer to live in wooded areas and
fairly open brush land.
This summer, however, a landowner brought two
beautiful fox kits to the Center. Everyone who saw them fell
immediately in love with these six-week old playful charmers.
The kits spent the summer with an experienced rehabilitator
learning to hunt and care for themselves. These foxes turned
out to be picky eaters. Contrary to the stories of foxes in the
henhouse, they turned their noses up at chicken. Just as the
reference books predicted, they preferred rabbits, mice and rats
to any other food. Interestingly, they also ate fruit,
vegetables and insects.
It is easy to distinguish gray foxes from their
red cousins. A fox’s most noticeable attribute is his gorgeous
full tail. Gray foxes have gray tails with a black stripe on
the upper side and a black tip, while the red fox has a
white-tipped tail. The grays are generally a bit smaller than
the reds; they weigh about 10 pounds and are about 40 inches
from nose to tail.
Gray foxes have an unusual ability; they climb
trees. If tree branches hang down or if the trees are leaning
to one side, the foxes are up in a flash. Their strong, hooked
claws allow they so scramble up the trees. To descend, they
jump down from branch to branch. Foxes may climb out of pure
curiosity or to get food or to hide from dogs or to lie on the
branches and bask in the sunlight.
Each spring, gray foxes build dens in hollow
logs, under rock piles or in hollow trees. In fact, in Texas
fox dens have been found 30 feet above ground in large hollow
trees. On rare occasions, they will make a nest in a pile of
brush or on the ground. They fill the dens with grass, leaves
or shredded bark to make a comfortable nest for the babies. The
litter of three to six kits is born after an eight-week
pregnancy. For the first week or so, the vixen stays in the den
with the pups while dad does the hunting for the entire family.
Later on, mom hunts at night and nurses the babies during the
day; the father takes care of the litter during the night.
When the babies are about a month old, they begin
to venture outside. While mom and dad watch carefully, they
play around the den. Almost anything can be a toy; bones, horse
droppings, leftover food, sticks and leaves. Although the
parents dispose of droppings and spoiled food, the play area
looks untidy. When foxes change dens, the parents bring the
playthings along with them.
start hunting with their parents when they are ten weeks old
or so. By the time fall arrives, they are on their own.
The next spring, these fox kits will establish families of
facts about gray foxes:
fruit. In summer and fall, nearly 30% of their diet is
persimmons and acorns.
are important predators, helping to control rodent
canines, they love to roll in smelly messes.
can run as fast at 26 miles an hour, though they slow down
after the start of the sprint
monogamous and both parents tenderly care for the kits. The
species is very playful – you will often see Mom and Dad
romping with the babies.
If food is
plentiful, a fox will bury the surplus. He returns to his
food cache from time to time, even if he is not hungry, to
look at and play with the contents.
Photo by FOLNC
Volunteer, Wayne Allen