Distribution & Abundance |
Habitat | Habits
| Foods |
Reproduction | Conservation
a distance, the gray fox looks like a small dog. Adults are 35 to 44 inches
in length. Weights range from 5 to 14 pounds. The sides of its neck, backs of its
ears, and underside of its tail are rusty yellow. A reddish-orange band
separates the whitish throat and belly from the upper sides and back, which are
a salt and pepper gray. A black mane of long, coarse hairs extends
along the top of the tail from its base to its tip, which is also black.
Distribution & Abundance
Gray foxes can be found in wooded areas throughout Illinois. They are most
common in west-central and southern Illinois because these regions
have the highest proportion of forest cover. As many as three to five gray foxes could
live in 1 square mile of good habitat, but lower densities are found in most
areas of the state.
Gray foxes live in
wooded or brushy areas.
They use a series of dens for
shelter and raising young. Typical den sites include rock formations,
hollow logs or trees, burrows and brush piles. Gray foxes line dens with grass,
leaves or shredded bark.
Gray foxes are most active at night. They are the only member of the canine family (foxes, coyotes, wolves)
that can climb trees, which they do by using their front feet to grasp a tree
trunk and hind feet to push upward. Gray foxes have been found in squirrel
nests and abandoned hawk nests up to 60 feet above the ground. This habit is
useful for escaping enemies, sunbathing and eating fruits or other foods found
in trees. Gray foxes are secretive and shy, but fight fiercely when
necessary. They can run 26 miles per hour for short distances.
Rabbits and rodents make up the bulk of their diet. A study in Missouri
showed the following food groups and their percentages by volume: rabbits
(47.1); mice and rats (20.7); other wild mammals (3.6); livestock (0.8); poultry
(9.7); wild birds (6.6); carrion (0.8); insects (1.2); plants (8.8) and
miscellaneous (0.7). Corn, berries and fruits like persimmons can be important
The gray fox breeding season extends from January to mid-May, but peaks in
February or the first week of March. Pregnancy averages
53 days. One litter per year is born between March and mid-May. A litter can
have between one and 10 pups, but three to five is most common.
Pups are born with their eyes closed and have a thin layer of blackish hair.
Their eyes open at 9 to 12 days of age. They leave the den for the first time to
accompany their parents on hunting trips at about 3 months of age. The family
group breaks up in late summer or early fall. The young continue to grow until
they're about 18 months old, but they are able to breed before they are a year
Gray foxes are harvested during limited hunting and trapping
seasons. These activities are highly regulated and occur only during the fall
and winter so that no newborns or mothers with dependent young are taken.
Population trends are monitored by several methods. One of the most useful
methods is called the Archery Deer Hunter Survey, in which archery deer hunters volunteer to
keep a log of the time they spend hunting and the numbers of wildlife they
observe. Land management practices that maintain brushy and forested cover types
with high prey populations and suitable denning sites are beneficial to foxes.
Hunting and Trapping Furbearers