A Gray Fox is a Marvelous Creature
Ro Wauer, May 2, 2004, The Victoria Advocate, © 2004
I hadn't seen a gray fox in my yard for several months. But last week one was there nevertheless, and I even was able to watch it for several minutes before it ran off into the adjacent woods. It was obvious why it was named "gray" fox. The entire upper side is gray from the head to the tail, although the snout and the end of the tail are black. And the undersides, including the legs, are a cinnamon color. The legs are short, not like the lanky stature of the larger coyote. And the ears are noticeably smaller, too.
The gray fox, along with the coyote, is one of the most widespread mammals in Texas, residing from the Trans-Pecos to the Gulf Coast and from the Panhandle to the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Its habitat preference differs, however, as the gray fox is a woodland animal and the coyote prefers more open areas. And as its choice of habitats suggests, the gray fox, unlike the coyote, spends considerable amount of time in trees; it is able to climb quite well. Not vertical trunks like a cat, but it does manage to climb into trees with lower branches, and it will often rest and even sleep on larger branches.
The gray fox is the most omnivorous of the canids. Its diet varies from prey like small mammals, such as cottontails, mice and rats, to birds, snakes, frogs, and even insects. And during the fall when berries ripen, or when cactus fruits are available, it can take advantage of that food source as well. A report on the stomach contents of 42 gray foxes in Texas revealed that in late summer and fall, persimmons and acorns dominated its diet with 30 percent, insects 26 percent, small mammals 15 percent, crayfish 14 percent, and chicken and quail only once each. The winter food of a similar number of gray foxes included small mammals 56 percent, insects (primarily grasshoppers) 23 percent, and wild birds 21 percent. And because it spends so much in trees, bird eggs would not be ignored.
In Texas, the breeding season begins in February and continues into March. Three to six pups are born in April or May, after a gestation period of about 63 days. Although the pups are born blind and helpless, they grow rapidly and leave the den within a few weeks. They then seek shelter in rocky and brushy areas. It is during this period when the adults are most likely to be seen in the open as they search their neighborhood for food for their growing families. Their weight can increase from a few ounces at birth to 7 to 12 pounds as an adult; there also is a record 19 pounder.
The gray fox must be ever aware of its surroundings, as it often becomes prey to coyotes and bobcats, both predators that occur in the area. In fact, biologists believe that gray fox populations are generally held in check by predation, principally from coyotes. Plus, wild dogs, especially those in packs, also take their share of gray foxes. And gray fox roadkills by vehicles are not unusual.
Although those of us that live outside the cities and towns only occasionally see a gray fox, it is very likely that a pair or a family of these little canids is a local resident. They are most active at dusk and dawn, but they are not limited to the non-daylight hours. Especially this time of year when they must feed hungry youngsters, they can be active during all 24 hours. If you have an opportunity to watch one of these little wild dogs you will appreciate them even more.