The fox, the smallest member of the dog family, is a highly adaptable
species that inhabits mostly forest, chaparral, and desert regions, but
can be found in nearly all habitats. California has four types of fox in
the state. They are the gray fox, the island fox, the red fox and the
kit fox. Foxes are more solitary in their habits than are others in the
dog family. They are territorial and can be aggressive, especially
during the breeding season. Their once-a-year breeding season
corresponds with the availability of food.
Despite the fact that urban foxes use human buildings for shelter and human refuse for food, their contact with humans is quite limited. Most people who live in an urban area have never seen a fox in the city. Foxes keep a nocturnal schedule, and in the nighttime are often mistaken for dogs when they are seen.
The Gray Fox is the most common fox in California, mainly populating coastal or mountain forests at lower elevations. The Gray Fox is a little smaller than the Red Fox and is the only member of the dog family known to climb trees. Secretive and mostly nocturnal, the Gray Fox is an excellent hunter. They can measure 21-29” in length with a bushy 16” tail. They can weigh 7-13 lbs.
The Gray Fox has a silvery-gray coat with conspicuous patches of yellow, brown, rust, or white on the throat and belly. Black-tipped guard hairs form a dark line down its back to the tip of the tail. Gray Foxes are forest dwellers. They prefer deciduous woodlands or partially open brush land with little human activity. While diet varies depending upon time of year, they prey mainly upon cottontail rabbits, small rodents, birds, and insects. Gray Foxes also forage for fruits and berries, and tend to eat more vegetable material than the Red Fox .Like other species of fox, the Gray Fox is territorial and marks its territory abundantly with urine, feces, and a pungent musk. The Gray Fox is considered a beneficial animal by many biologists, ecologists, and naturalists. Like most carnivores, they play an important role in the ecosystem by helping to maintain the balance between predator and prey. They are excellent mousers, keeping rodent and small mammal populations in check.
The Island Fox, a relative of the Gray Fox, is a small fox that is native to six of the eight Channel Islands of California. It is the smallest fox species in the United States. There are six subspecies of the fox, each unique to the island it inhabits, reflecting its evolutionary history. Other names for the Island Fox include Coast Fox, Short-Tailed Fox, Island Gray Fox, Channel Islands Fox, Channel Islands Gray Fox, California Channel Island Fox and Insular Gray Fox.
The Island Fox is much smaller than the Gray fox, roughly the size of a house cat. They are not intimidated by humans, as they have historically been at the top of the island food chain and had no natural predators. Golden Eagle predation and hum
Red Foxes, the most commonly recognized fox, are known for their cleverness and have the largest range in North America. Although they are close relatives of the Gray Fox, they are considerably larger, normally ranging in size from ten to fifteen pounds. Their coats may be reddish or gray or even black, but their legs and feet are always black. The tail is tipped with white. In California there are two populations of Red Fox, the native Sierra Nevada Red Fox, a threatened species found only in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, and the more common, non-native Red Fox. Non-native Red Foxes were introduced decades ago for fox hunting and fur farming. Over time, these foxes escaped or were released. Their populations have grown and gradually spread.
The Red Fox eats rodents, insects, fruits, worms, eggs, birds, and other small animals. It has 42 very powerful teeth that it uses to catch its food. The fox regularly consumes from 1-2 lbs of food per day. In urban neighborhoods, the fox often survives mainly by scavenging household waste, though it will also take rodents and birds from gardens.
The Kit fox is mostly a nocturnal animal but sometimes ventures out of its den during the day. The Kit fox usually goes out to hunt shortly after sunset, mostly eating small animals such as kangaroo rats, cottontail rabbits, black-tailed jackrabbits, meadow voles, hares, prairie dogs, insects, lizards, snakes, fish, and ground-dwelling birds. They will scavenge carrion. While primarily carnivorous, if food is scarce, they have been known to eat tomatoes, cactus fruits, and other fruits. Different Kit fox families can occupy the same hunting grounds, but do not generally go hunting at the same time. The kit fox usually has a gray coat, with rusty tones, and a black tip to its tail. Unlike the Gray Fox, it has no stripe along the length of its tail. Their color ranges from yellowish to gray. Their back is usually darker than the majority of their coat, and their belly and inner ears are usually lighter. They have distinct dark patches around the nose. The Southern California Kit Fox, a subspecies of Kit Fox, died out in Southern California in 1903.
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