The Great Outdoors


A red fox went across our property earlier this month, before the warm weather came. There was snow on the ground, snow and ice covered our marsh. The fox came out of the woods across the road to the west, crossed a field of grass, the road in front of our house, crossed our marsh on the ice, then our hay field and continued out of sight to the east. I didn’t see the fox. My older son did. He said it didn’t stop to sniff or investigate anything as it went, just walked steadily on.

A fox is much like a small to medium sized dog. A red fox is a few inches over two feet long with a tail slightly longer than a foot. It weighs ten to fifteen pounds when grown. It’s a pretty animal, reddish-yellow on the head, back and sides, white on the throat and belly and the tip of big, bushy tail. Its feet are black. Its ears are large, nearly pointed and held up straight making foxes appear alert at all times.

There are three different color phases of the red fox and each of them is known by a different name. One is black and a black red fox is called, of course, a black fox. A black fox with the longer hairs in its coat, the guard hairs, tipped with white appears silver and is called a silver fox. The third color phase has black across its shoulders and down its back and is called a cross fox.

But back to the red fox that crossed our property earlier this month, where was it going? Why? What was driving it? This is the beginning of the mating season for it. Could that have anything to do with its travels? Was it just looking for new territory?

The usual range of a red fox, or a pair of red foxes, is only one to two square miles. Within that range a fox or a pair will have one to several dens. These are usually holes in the ground, dug by the foxes or appropriated from woodchucks and enlarged. Foxes also sometimes make their dens in hollow logs.

Mating is in winter and young are born in the spring, in Indiana usually in March or April. After the young are born the male will bring food to his mate for a few days. Then male and female hustle to catch food for their hungry brood, usually four to six but not infrequently as many as nine.

Food for foxes, it seems, is anything they can catch and subdue. Rabbits and mice are prime fare but foxes also eat birds and eggs, grasshoppers and other insects. They eat berries and other fruit. They kill and eat chickens and young lambs which makes them unpopular with farmers.

Foxes rate with coyotes and wolves in popularity. They have been hunted, trapped and poisoned. Many states of the U.S. have had bounties on foxes, as they have on coyotes and wolves.

The range of the red fox is world wide, nearly all of North America except the Rocky Mountains, the desert southwest and the extreme southeast. The red fox also lives in Europe and Asia. Riding horses, following hounds pursuing foxes has been a popular sport in England. I read of an American participating in a fox hunt in England who was admonished after he spotted a fox to yell Tallyhoe, not “There goes the S.O.B.”

The home range of a red fox is small but individual foxes have been known to travel great distances. A few radio-tagged foxes have traveled over one hundred miles. So how far did the fox my son saw cross our land go? And why?

Neil A. Case

Neil A. Case

I have always liked the outdoors and birds and am a conservationist and an environmentalist. I don't write specifically about conservation but mix my opinion in with stories about a bird, a mammal, a plant or other outdoor subject. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer