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Fox Sightings on the Rise in West Hartford

Red Fox. Courtesy photo

West Hartford Animal Control has been getting an increasing number of calls regarding foxes, and has provided some information regarding types of foxes and when residents should be concerned.

Submitted by West Hartford Animal Control

It’s that time of year again. Due to the number of fox calls we have been receiving, we thought we would provide some information about fox in Connecticut. This information is from the State of Connecticut, Wildlife Division of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP).

The information provided below lists certain symptoms which may indicate a fox is sick or injured. If those situations are observed, West Hartford Animal Control suggests residents contact West Hartford Police at 860-523-5203. Do not handle or go near animal.

General questions or concerns can be reported to West Hartford Animal Control at 860-570-8818. West Hartford Animal Control also provides important information about wildlife as well as lost and found pets on its Facebook page and invites residents to follow them there.

Red Fox

The red fox is widespread and abundant in Connecticut. Foxes are members of the dog family, Canidae, just like domestic dogs and coyotes.

The red fox is an omnivore, meaning that it eats both plant and animal foods. Food items include small rodents, squirrels, woodchucks, rabbits, birds and eggs, amphibians, and reptiles. Foxes also will eat vegetation, fruits, nuts, insects, carrion, and garbage. Red foxes may partially bury, or cache, excess food, cover it with soil, grass, leaves, or snow, and mark it with urine.

The breeding season is from January through March. After a gestation period of 51 to 53 days, females give birth to a litter averaging four or five pups. Red foxes may dig their own burrows but they usually improve an abandoned woodchuck burrow. It also is common for foxes to den in the crawl space under decks and sheds. Most foxes have more than 1 den and will readily move their young if disturbed. The pups stay in the den until they are about 4 to 5 weeks of age, after which they emerge and begin to play outside the den entrance. Both adults care for the young by bringing food and guarding the den site. The pups are weaned at about 12 weeks and join the adults on hunting forays, learning to catch food on their own. The young disperse from the family unit in fall and will usually breed during their first winter.Red fox tracks

Red foxes tend to be solitary, usually hunting alone. They can be active at any time of day, but appear to hunt most often during dawn and dusk. It is not unusual to observe foxes during daytime. They remain active all year and do not hibernate. The normal home range for a fox is about 2 to 4 square miles in Connecticut, but it may vary depending on the abundance of food.

Foxes are important predators of prolific prey species like mice, rats, and rabbits.

Common Gray Fox

Common Gray Fox. Courtesy photo

The habitat for the gray fox includes deciduous woodlands, thickets and swampy areas.

Their weight ranges from 7 to 14 pounds, 10 to 11 pounds is average. Gray foxes are typically 32 to 45 inches, and sexes are about equal in size. They typically eat rabbits, mice, voles, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, fruits, insects, birds and eggs, carrion, corn, amphibians, and reptiles.

Foxes have pointed ears, an elongated snout (shorter and more cat-like in appearance in the gray fox than the red fox) and a long, bushy tail which is carried horizontally. The gray fox is somewhat stout and has shorter legs than the red fox. Its coat is mostly grizzled-gray. The sides of the neck, back of the ears, a band across the chest, the inner and back surfaces of the legs, the feet, the sides of the belly and the under surface of the tail are all reddish-brown. The cheeks, throat, inner ears and most of the underside are white. The upper part of the tail, including the tip, is black.

The range for the gray fox occurs from extreme southern Canada throughout the United States, except in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and most of Washington. It ranges into Mexico and Central America.

Foxes breed from January through March with the gray fox tending to breed two to four weeks later than the red fox. After an average gestation period of 53 days, the female fox gives birth to a litter averaging four or five pups. The gray fox usually does not use an underground den but, instead, dens in dense brush, cavities in stumps and trees, rock crevices or under out-buildings such as barns and sheds. Most foxes have more than one den and will readily move their young if disturbed. The pups stay in the den until about four to five weeks of age, after which they emerge and begin to play outside the den entrance. Both adults care for the young by bringing food and guarding the den site. At about 12 weeks of age, the pups are weaned and join the adults on hunting forays, learning to catch food for themselves. In the fall, the young disperse from the family unit and will usually breed the first spring after they are born.

Fox History and Fox Facts

In the middle 1700s, Connecticut was home to both native gray and red foxes. The red fox was an inhabitant of mixed forest and open areas while the gray fox inhabited more dense woodlands. In the 1750s, the European red fox was introduced into the eastern coastal areas of the United States and likely interbred with the native red fox to produce a hybrid (mix) of both types of fox. The hybrid fox is now considered to be the only red fox type in Connecticut.

With the abandonment of farmland during the 1800s and subsequent regrowth of woodlands, the gray fox population has increased during the past 100 years.

Gray foxes are not observed as frequently as red foxes due to their reclusive nature and more nocturnal habits. Gray foxes tend to be active from the late evening hours until dawn. They will readily climb trees, jumping from branch to branch while hunting or for protection.

In Connecticut, the normal home range for a fox is about two to four square miles, but it may vary depending on the abundance of food.

What Does the Fox Say?

Foxes are quite vocal, exhibiting various barks, howls, and whines. The sounds vary from a short, sharp “yap” or bark, followed by a “yap, yap,” to a combination of screeches, yells, and long howls. A common report to the DEEP Wildlife Division involves the sounds made by red foxes (e.g., a raspy, single syllable scream or bark, repeated regularly every 3-10 seconds).

The gray fox has a voice similar to the red fox, but barks or yaps less often than the red fox and its voice is louder.

Disease, Danger, and Deterring

Foxes can carry the organisms that are responsible for several contagious diseases, such as mange, distemper, and rabies. Sarcoptic mange is sometimes deadly to foxes and coyotes. It is caused by a microscopic mite that lives in the skin. Animals with mange lose hair and weight; their skin becomes cracked and encrusted with heavy scabs. Infected foxes usually die from the affliction within 2 to 4 months. Humans can contract the mite from infested coyotes, foxes, and dogs, but the disease is less intense, consisting of a mild form of dermatitis.

Raccoon rabies is the most common strain of rabies found in Connecticut. Raccoons are the primary carrier but foxes also can be infected. Foxes are the primary carrier of different strains of rabies that occur in other regions of North America. Most red foxes die from rabies too quickly to spread the disease to other animals or humans. Nevertheless, animals that appear sick or are acting abnormally should be avoided. The following symptoms may indicate the presence of rabies or other neurological diseases in mammals: unprovoked aggression, impaired movement, paralysis or lack of coordination, unusually bold behavior, and disorientation.

The West Hartford Police Routine number (860) 523-5203, should be called if the fox exhibits the above symptoms of rabies. If you are unable to contact local authorities, call the DEEP at 860-424-3333.

Foxes commonly live in close association with human residences and communities where they can find plenty of food, water, and cover. They frequently inhabit yards, parks, and golf courses, especially areas that adjoin suitable, undeveloped habitat. Foxes can become accustomed to human activity but are seldom aggressive toward people. Problems associated with foxes include depredation on domestic animals, perceptions of danger to humans (healthy foxes pose virtually no danger to humans), and their potential to carry disease organisms. The mere presence of a fox should not be perceived as a problem and foxes need not be feared. However, those who are uncomfortable with the presence of foxes can take certain actions to reduce the chance of problems:

  • Do not allow pets to run free! Keep cats indoors, particularly at night, and small dogs on a leash and under close supervision at all times.
  • NEVER feed foxes! DO NOT put out food for any mammals. Feed pets indoors. Clean up fruit dropped from trees and bird seed below feeders. Secure garbage in animal proof containers and store in a garage or shed. Feeding, whether direct or indirect, can cause foxes to act tame and may lead to bold behavior over time.
  • Close off crawl spaces under decks and sheds. Foxes will use these areas for resting and raising young.
  • Use frightening techniques. Human presence often is a deterrent to foxes. Foxes that travel into residential yards can be harassed or scared with loud noises, bright lights, or spraying water from a hose. Disturbing a den site physically or with unnatural odors (e.g., moth balls) during spring may prompt foxes to move to another den which may be farther away.

Foxes are classified as furbearer species, and thus Connecticut has established regulated hunting and trapping seasons. Hunting and trapping can be used to regulate fox populations while providing recreational opportunities for sportsmen and women.

Nationally, millions of dollars are generated every year from fox pelt harvests. The silky, dense fur of the red fox is more valued than the fur of the gray fox, which is coarse and thin. Live-trapping and relocating foxes is not recommended because the state’s fox population and fox “problems” are widespread, and relocated foxes can cause problems in new locations. Removing problem foxes through trapping or hunting is only recommended during designated seasons or in situations where individual foxes show a pattern of preying on livestock.

Adult foxes have few predators; feral dogs and coyotes likely will not tolerate foxes within their territories. The relationship between gray foxes and coyotes has not been well studied.

Management of Problem Foxes

Problems associated with foxes include depredation on domestic animals, perceptions of danger to humans (healthy foxes pose virtually no danger to humans) and their potential to carry disease organisms. Foxes will prey on small livestock such as ducks, chickens, rabbits and young lambs, but generally do not bother larger livestock. Cats may also be preyed on. Foxes often carry their prey to a secluded area or their den where it is eaten by the adults and young.

Livestock can be protected from foxes by secure pens, coops or fencing. Most predation occurs at night so it is particularly important to provide protection at that time. Foxes will dig or squeeze under poorly maintained fences and may climb over small fences. Some electric fence designs can provide good protection. Outdoor dogs may also keep foxes away. Potential food sources, such as pet food, meat scraps in compost piles, and fruit below fruit trees should be eliminated. Dead livestock should be properly discarded to avoid attracting foxes into the proximity of remaining livestock. Removing foxes through trapping or shooting is only recommended during designated seasons or in situations where individual foxes show a pattern of preying on livestock.

Many of the methods used to protect livestock can also be used to protect pets. Pets are often easier to protect because they can be kept indoors at night and can be supervised outdoors by their owners. Human presence is often a deterrent to foxes. Foxes that travel into residential yards should be harassed or scared with loud noises to prevent them from becoming habituated. During the spring, disturbing a den site physically or with unnatural odors may prompt foxes to move to an alternative den which may be farther from yards and houses.

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