Fox in Massachusetts
Natural History Information
The red fox and gray fox are common and abundant in Massachusetts and can be found throughout the state, except Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. The fox prefers a varied landscape. It thrives in areas where different habitats blend including forests, fields, orchards and brush lands. Foxes will most often use the transition areas between these habitat types. Foxes are members of the dog family Canidae, and their general appearance is similar to domestic dogs and coyotes.
General Description of the Red Fox
The red fox measures 22 to 32 inches in head and body length, and the tail is 14 to 16 inches long. The adult red fox weight is from 6 to 15 pounds, but it appears heavier than it actually is.
The red fox is usually recognized by its reddish coat and black "leg-stockings." Red is the most common color, but the hair may be from light yellow to deep auburn red. The white tip on the tail will distinguish this fox from other species, despite its color phase.
General Description of the Gray Fox
The gray fox is often confused with the red fox because the gray has rusty-red fur on its ears, ruffs and neck. Overall coloration is gray, and the darkest color extends in a suggested stripe along the top of the back down to the end of the tail. The belly, throat, and chest areas are whitish in color.
Gray fox appear smaller than red fox. The shorter leg length and stockier body are deceptive. Many gray fox weigh about the same as red fox in the same habitat types. Males and females both weigh 8 to 11 pounds on average. Weights are often about 8 pounds in southern states, and nearer 11 in northern states. Compared to red fox, grays have shorter muzzles and shorter ears which are usually held erect and pointed forward. Many grays stand about 15 inches tall at the shoulders and overall lengths are around 40-44 inches including a tail of 12 to 15 inches. It is important to remember that the gray fox is the only fox that climbs trees.
Both species of foxes breed mid January to late February and use a den during this time. The den is a hole in the earth, 15 to 20 feet long, usually on the side of a knoll. It may have several entrances. Sometimes foxes dig their own dens. More often, though, they appropriate and enlarge the homesites of small burrowing animals, such as woodchucks. The young, called kits, are born after a gestation of 53 days. One litter is born each year. A litter of four kits is common. The young leave the den for the first time a month later. The mother gradually weans them, and at 3 months old, the kits are learning to hunt. Foxes are quite vocal, having a large repertoire of howls, barks, and whines. The family unit endures until autumn, at which time it breaks up and each animal becomes independent.
Foxes are usually shy and wary but they are also curious. Activity is variable; they can be active night or day and sightings at dusk or dawn are common. They remain active all year and do not hibernate. Foxes actively maintain territories. These areas may vary from 2 to 7 square miles.
Both the red fox and gray fox are omnivorous. They are opportunistic feeders and their primary foods include small rodents, squirrels, rabbits, birds, eggs, insects, vegetation, fruit and carrion. Foxes cache excess food when the hunting/foraging is good. They return to these storage sites and have been observed digging up a cache, inspecting it, and reburying it in the same spot.
Foxes are an important natural resource in Massachusetts. They are classified as a furbearer species, for which an established regulated hunting season and management program exists. If you are experiencing problems with, or have questions regarding foxes, contact the nearest MassWildlife District office.
Suggestions to make your property less attractive to foxes
- Secure your garbage! Foxes will raid open trash materials and compost piles. Secure your garbage in tough plastic containers with tight fitting lids and keep in secure buildings when possible. Take out trash the morning pick up is scheduled, not the previous night. Keep compost piles in containers designed to contain but vent the material.
- Don't feed or try to pet foxes! Keep wild things wild! Feeding, whether direct or indirect, can cause foxes to act tame and over time may lead to bold behavior. Foxes that rely on natural food items remain wild and wary of humans.
- Keep your pets safe! Although free roaming pets are more likely to be killed by automobiles than by wild animals, foxes can view cats as potential food. For the safety of your pets, keep them restrained at all times.
- Keep bird feeder areas clean! Use feeders designed to keep seed off the ground as the seed attracts many small mammals foxes prey upon. Remove feeders if foxes are regularly seen around your yard. Feed pets indoors! Outdoor feeding attracts many wild animals to your door!
- Close off crawl spaces under porches and sheds! Foxes use such areas for resting and raising young.
- Don't let foxes intimidate you! Don't hesitate to scare or threaten foxes with loud noises, bright lights, or water.
- Cut back brushy edges in your yard! These areas provide cover for foxes and their prey.
- Educate your neighbors! Pass this information along since your efforts will be futile if neighbors are providing food or shelter for foxes.