Gray Foxes: The Joy of Living with Them
gray foxes

A mom gray fox and her kit living under our studio. Pure joy! Photo: Corrie Woods

The leaves next to Dale’s studio are rustling. Cool, it must be our resident black snake, who we haven’t seen in a long time.  Then a tiny nose pokes around the corner. This isn’t our snake, but a baby fox. I’m about to have heart failure I am so excited. We have a baby fox living under our studio! Wondering if it’s a red or gray fox, I can’t tell. We have both living in our woods and this one is so little.

Ok, so where are mom & dad? And are there more? Since they are mostly nocturnal, coming out at night except on rare occasions or when they have kits to feed, it appears this young one is just starting to explore. In broad daylight!

We get our critter cams set up and also call my sister, Corrie Woods, who lives next door, to alert her. We are definitely a family who loves all wildlife.

Within a couple of days, we see both parents and not one, but four kits. Wow, they are living on our property which hopefully means they know it is safe to raise their babies without interference from us.




How do you tell gray foxes from red ones?

red fox

Red or Gray fox? Tip, look at the tail.

Look closely and you will see their long, beautiful bushy tail. They use their tail for balance, keeping warm at night and communicating with other animals. And look closely at the tip of the tail.  Gray foxes have black tips and red foxes white.

And what if you see a fox climbing a tree? Wait, they climb trees? Well, only gray foxes climb trees. Red foxes stay on the ground. Now you know 2 great ways to tell the difference between the two species. You are becoming an expert!

red foxes

Gray fox or red fox? Photo: Loti Woods/Brookgreen Gardens

Let’s learn some cool facts about gray foxes 

As omnivores, they eat anything. Fish, frogs, worms, even fruit, but mostly they hunt small animals like rodents, rabbits and birds. In an urban setting, they’ll also eat garbage, birdseed, and anything else they can find.

And when it comes to mating, gray foxes generally couple for life but don’t live together. How strange! Each spring, the male & female find each other and then stay together until the fall, raising the kits. Then it is off to separate lives until next spring.

Most litters are 3-5 kits born once a year in the spring. Born in a den made in hollow logs, caves or under buildings, the parents will move the den if they think the kits aren’t safe, often moving it several times. So we are thankful. Our family has been living under Dale’s studio for the last 9 weeks. What joy to see them every day!

Born blind and helpless until about three weeks old, the kits are weaned and learning how to hunt by three months. Incredible. After nine months, the kits disperse, looking for mates to start their own families. Since gray foxes live an average of 6-10 years, we hope to see this family back next year.


gray foxes

Do gray or red foxes climb trees? Photo: Corrie Woods

How do foxes find prey?

And there is much to be learned from all foxes. Now, what could you possibly learn? How about their use of the earth’s magnetic field to hunt. Really! If you have ever seen a fox successfully pounce on a mouse, you might wonder if they are smelling it. Or maybe hearing it?

Foxes use all their senses to hunt, especially their ears. Each ear can rotate 180 degrees in different directions so they can actually hear a mouse over 100 feet away. But even cooler is they use the earth’s magnetic field to measure the depth and distance of the mouse. By aligning their bodies in a northeast direction (the same direction as the earth’s magnetic pull), they increase their success in catching prey from 18% to 74%. Wow.

To learn more read our blog “A Foxy Way To Use Earth’s Magnetic Field” And we will attest they are expert hunters. Every night, our male & female foxes bring back rats, voles, mice, squirrels & rabbits for the family to eat. It is quite extraordinary how much prey they catch.

gray foxes

Gray foxes live an average of 6-10 years in the wild. Photo: Corrie Woods

The biggest threat to foxes?

So does the gray fox have any predators? Actually, quite a few. Coyotes, bald eagles, and bears, are predators in the Eastern states with mountain lions and wolves additional predators out west. The kits are especially vulnerable, which is why they stay close to their den while young.

But the biggest predator is us humans. Foxes are sometimes considered pests and are often hunted and/or trapped for their fur. So we are happy to give our family a safe haven.

Why are gray foxes important to our ecosystem?

gray foxes

Foxes help keep rodent populations under control. Photo: Corrie Woods

As foxes move through their habitat, they disperse seeds of the fruits and vegetables they have eaten allowing plants to spread and survive. Plus they control small rodent populations, especially mice and rats. We routinely see mom or dad bringing home a rat, mouse, or squirrel from our woods to feed their family.

And of course, they are really cute.  We have learned so much about the strength of the family bond. If we get too near when the kits are out, Dad barks at us to back off! Watching our family grow is one of the greatest joys we have experienced while living in Western NC. If you get outside and look around, you might just see a fox living near you! And now you know if it a red or gray! 

Gray foxes

Foxes need our help to stay safe. Photo: Corrie Woods

How can you help?

Spread the word on social media why foxes are cool and important to protect. If a family dens on your property, give them space and know they are helping keep your rodent population in check. Donate to conservation organizations that help save & protect foxes.    

To learn more

gray foxes

Learn all you can about gray foxes. You might just have one living in your backyard! Photo: Corrie Woods

BBC Wonder of Animals: Foxes. Watch foxes hunting using the earth’s magnetic field.

And check out Dale’s sculpture “Catching the Scent” with all proceeds donated to the educational programs of our nonprofit, Weiler Woods for Wildlife. And yes, the sculpture is of a red fox, not a gray but in this case, who cares!

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