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Matt Ragen

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Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

We are fortunate to have a retreat in the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound that supports a wide range of wildlife. For several years, we had heard about a family of foxes that live next door to our place but, in our weekends up on the islands, they had been elusive and we had never spotted them. However, one morning in 2003 while I was waiting to see if one of our bald eagles would land on one of their favorite rocks, I heard a rustling sound and a red fox, as surprised as I was, scooted by about eight feet in front of me. After it had moved off to maybe twenty feet away, it stopped to look back at me and I recovered enough to take a few pictures. It then sauntered off. I followed, curious, and found that it ducked into its den about one hundred feet further away where there was at least one other young fox. About fifteen minutes and a quarter mile later, I ran across a second fox family. These pictures represent the best photos of the foxes that I took over the rest of the weekend.

Album - Red Fox Photos

Red Fox, Full Profile

Mother and Baby Fox

Fox, In Grass

Fox, Close Up

Down the Fox Den
Click on the picture or the caption to see a larger version of the picture.


Background on Red Foxes

Foxes are small animals of the dog family. The Vulpinae, or fox "subfamily" of the Canidae, split from the rest of their doggy brethren about 12 million years ago. They can be found all around the world. In the United States, the two most common species of fox are the grey fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) and the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), which is by far the better known of the two.

There are 10 subspecies of red fox in North America. Vulpes vulpes cascadensis inhabits the Northwest. Like the black bear, this species is misnamed. There are several color phases of the red fox, including red, silver, and cross, as well as combinations of all three. The red phase is red colored above, whitish below. The silver phase is almost completely black with silver tipped hairs, and the cross phase is reddish brown with a dark cross on its shoulders. All color phases of the red fox have a white tipped tail.

All color phases of the red fox are found in the Pacific Northwest. Northern red foxes are darker and its colors more intense than southern red foxes. For example, 70% of the red foxes in British Columbia exhibit the black and cross color phases. While in the Great Basin, further south, they make up less than 20% or the population, the red phase being more predominant. In the Pacific Northwest, which lies between British Columbia and the Great Basin, a subspecies of red fox, V.v. cascadensis, is made up of 52% red phase and 48% silver or cross phase.

Red foxes live in a variety of habitats, including mixed hardwood woodlands, farmland, pastures, and brush. They use edges habitually for hunting. Edges are areas where two plant communities come together, for example a forest and a grassland. Edges often have a greater diversity of animal life than either plant community separately. The red fox can run up to 30 miles per hour and is able to jump over barriers 6 feet high.

Males are usually bigger than females. Head and body length for both sexes are between 18 and 37 inches, tail length is between 12 and 23 inches. Males weigh an average of 9 to 12 pounds and females an average of 9 to 10 pounds. The average lifespan of red foxes is between three and four years. The potential longevity is reported to be twelve years.

Like the coyote, the red fox's diet changes with the seasons and locality. Besides rabbits and mice, red foxes eat raccoons, skunks, young opossums, squirrels, porcupines, songbirds, ducks, bird eggs, and a variety of other animal species. Plant foods include grasses, nuts, berries, fruits, corn, and wheat. They also eat carrion.

Foxes often smell like they have been in a fight with a skunk, but the smell is actually a result of a small scent gland located beneath the tail near their anus. This skunk-like, sometimes known as "foxy," smell is associated with the courtship behavior of the red foxes. As one author has stated, "It is my nose more than anything that first tells me when foxes are courting." During courtship, a female and male red fox establish a territory by "scent marking." This is achieved by urinating on logs, rocks, and bushes, which in addition to the anal gland, serves as a secondary source of the fox's unique fragrance. The boundaries of this territory are characterized by the strong "foxy" odor. Foxes also have a scent gland on their tail, as do many canids, but the significance it plays communication is unknown.

Foxes (Wildlife Library Series)
by David MacDonald

More Fox Books
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA


The following books (available at are good sources of information on foxes.

These books are fictional or children's stories that involve foxes.

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