Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Foxy New Jersey

red fox - photo by Gary Lehman www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/

It is not at all uncommon for you to see a fox in a rural or suburban setting, but foxes in New Jersey are still rare enough to give most of us a surprise and thrill.

It is not positively known if the red fox (Vulpe s vulpes) was a native of New Jersey. If the species was native, the numbers were few. It is thought that some or all of this species may have been introduced by colonists from England for the purpose of hunting with horses and hounds.

English foxes were introduced to the Colonies in Virginia and the Long Island area and eventually crossed into mainland New York State and into New Jersey. The native gray fox was not seen as "sporting" enough as it treed rather than ran or ran in a much smaller area than would the red fox.

In New Jersey, there are two species you might see. The red fox and the gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus). The gray fox is known to be native to the state.

Both species are present throughout the state and are also classified as game species with hunting and trapping seasons.

For both species, male foxes are called "dogs" and females are known as "vixens".

Generally speaking, neither species pose a threat to people, but like all wildlife species should never be approached or fed. Fox are well known for their threat to small domestic animals, and are well-deserving of their reputation for intelligence. They are highly adaptable, and can be found living in close proximity to people and in developed areas.

The pointed ears, slender muzzle, and slanted eyes, bushy and unusually long tail, coupled with its small dog size and typical orange-red coloration, make the red fox instantly recognizable to most observers.

The exact breeding period for red foxes is January-February in the central regions which includes New Jersey. ) Litters size may vary from one to as many as fourteen pups, with an average of about five. The family group remains together until the autumn after the birth when the young will disperse. Sexual maturity is reached by 10 months for both male and female young.

Red foxes can weigh from about 8 to 15 pounds, but in New Jersey will generally weigh about 12 to 13 pounds for a large, adult male. Males average about 2 pounds heavier than females. Generally, adult foxes measure 39 to 43 inches from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail. In their first autumn, juveniles are as large as adults.

Other than when raising young and during breeding season, the red fox is a solitary animal and does not form a pack like wolves.

Family groups and/or individuals use a main earthen den in conjunction with other emergency burrows within their home range. Foxes often take over and utilize dens of other animals, such as woodchucks. The dens may be enlarged during the winter and prior to birth and rearing of the young. Several generations of foxes will often use the same den site.

Red foxes are strictly terrestrial and rarely enter water. Red foxes most often hunt and move about during evening, nighttime and early morning hours.

Meadow Vole
Being a nonspecific predator, the red fox utilizes a variety of food types and prey. It is also a very efficient scavenger, and garbage and carrion are can be important to the fox's diet. Throughout much of the year, however, meadow voles are the major prey, making up about one half of the red fox's diet. Other rodents are also eaten whenever available.

In northeastern North America, dependent on season and local, woodchucks, eastern cottontails (and snowshoe hares where they are present) may also be preferred. Gamebirds such as bobwhite, ring-necked pheasants and ruffed grouse are seasonally utilized as well as any ground nesting birds and/or their eggs and young during spring and early summer. During late summer and autumn, fruits, berries, and insects may be eaten.

Gray Fox
The Gray Fox is common in New Jersey as well as many parts of the United States where deciduous woodlands provide habitat. But it is a seldom seen, secretive carnivore.

Habitats for gray fox include wooded, brushy, and rocky areas. Although they are occasionally seen in old fields and farm country, they do not prefer agricultural habitats, unlike the red fox.

Like most foxes, gray foxes resemble small, slightly built dogs with bushy tails. The general coloration of a gray fox is a strikingly beautiful grizzled gray that appears on the face, sides and tail. Portions of the legs and lower sides as well as large areas of the neck, ears and bottom portion of the tail are a rusty, reddish color with white areas on the chin, belly and insides of the legs.

Adult gray foxes weigh from about 6.5 to 15 pounds; generally though, a large male will weigh somewhere around 11 to 12 pounds, and males will be slightly larger than females.

Gray foxes have a capability unique for a member of the dog family - their ability to climb trees. Their strong, hooked claws allow them to scramble up trees to avoid predators and to obtain fruit. They descend primarily by jumping from branch to branch. Gray foxes are nocturnal or crepuscular and they usually remain denned during the day in hollow trees, stumps or old woodchuck burrows.

The gray fox is a generally a solitary hunter, but they may hunt as a pair, usually with a mate or offspring. They eat a wide variety of food types. The most important food source for the gray fox may be the cottontail but voles, field mice, shrews, and birds are readily eaten. The gray fox generally supplements its diet with whatever fruits are in season; generally utilizing more vegetable matter than the red fox.

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.
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. Foxes, especially red foxes, commonly live in close association with human residences and communities. They frequently inhabit yards, parks, and golf courses, especially areas that adjoin suitable, undeveloped habitat. Healthy foxes pose virtually no danger to humans. Foxes can grow accustomed to human activity but are seldom aggressive toward people. Expanding housing development, particularly in historically rural areas, increases the chances of interactions between humans and foxes, as well as other wildlife.

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