Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes: Red foxes

  • Article by: Jim Gilbert
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • February 13, 2014 - 12:59 PM

Like other wild dogs, red foxes hunt primarily at night, but they are known to extend this activity into daylight during the winter, when prey is harder to catch. They like to sleep in the open during the midday, curling up on the snow in some spot protected from wind, sunning themselves when they can while keeping a watchful eye or ear out for intruders. They seldom sleep deeply.

Red foxes are typically 40 inches long, including a 16-inch bushy tail. They weigh up to about 14 pounds and have a pointed nose and pointed ears. In winter their coat is thick and luxurious. Most red foxes are yellowish-red, with traces of black found on the back, tail, feet and at tips of the ears. The throat, the underside of the body and the tip of the tail are white.

Found throughout Minnesota, these foxes prefer farmlands, semi-open country and forest communities. Their natural range stretches from the Arctic almost to the Mexican border. They are also found across the Northern Hemisphere in Eurasia. Being primarily carnivorous, they eat squirrels, rabbits, muskrats, mice and birds of many species. In spring, summer and fall they add a variety of insects, frogs, fruits and other items to their diet. They may be the world’s greatest destroyer of mice.

Red foxes are relatively solitary animals, but by late January we sometimes see two sets of fox prints, side by side. They are probably monogamous for at least one season at a time, but they may mate for life. They breed from late January into February, and the females usually bear four to six young after a 51-day gestation. The family occupies a burrow that the foxes dig themselves or remodel from the den of another mammal.

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.

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