Wondrous Wildlife
By Vern and Lori Gieger
Zorro

     No mask, no sword but just as mysterious. Sometimes called the tree fox, or as it is known here in Mexico, el zorro, the common grey fox is small, agile and elusive. With cat-like non-retractable claws, they are the only member of the canid family in North America that can climb trees. Being quite at home in trees, they can move around gracefully leaping from branch to branch with the agility of a squirrel.
     The grey fox cannot run for long periods of time; therefore, their ability to climb trees comes in very handy to seek protection from threatening predators. They have been known to take their siestas in trees and have even been found sleeping in abandoned hawks’ nests.
     The grey fox is found from southern Canada to Venezuela. However, only a few small pockets of populations exist south of the United States. The grey fox’s name is a bit misleading, as they are not truly grey. The areas that appear grey are a result of the blending of individual hairs. The hairs are banded with black and white, giving the appearance of grey fur. They actually have several colors of fur. The bottom of the tail, the outside of the ears, and most of their undersides, are orangish red.
     Most of the muzzle, cheeks, throat and the lower parts of the legs and paws, are whitish. A distinct black stripe runs from the outer corners of the eyes down the sides to the muzzle. The tail has a solid black tip, and the hairs along the top of the tail have heavy black tips, forming a distinctive stripe that extends to the tip of the tail. Due to their unique coloration they are relatively easy to identify. Grey foxes are also quite small, male’s weigh between seven and thirteen pounds, females between seven and eleven pounds. Pound for pound my cat Sam is bigger, however, he is not all that elusive nor too graceful, more like a football with legs, but that is another story.
     Grey foxes are nocturnal spending their days resting in various hideaways. Venturing out after dusk to prowl under the veil of darkness...one reason why these interesting little guys are seldom seen. Unlike other members of canid family they are not social pack animals. They are secretive and shy, a pair mate for life and form a range together. Grey foxes, though not as territorial as their cousins the red foxes, do maintain a territory and mark it off regularly. They are omnivorous and will eat almost anything, mice, rats, grasshoppers, crickets, eggs, birds, nuts, berries, etc., but the actual diet depends on the season and region. Interestingly, insects can make up to approximately 40% of the gray fox’s diet.
     Their mating season is determined by the climate in which they live; the further north they are, the later the breeding season. The female gives birth to four to ten all black young, called kits, in a den, which was formerly inhabited by another animal. They typically do not dig their own dens, but prefer to let another do the hard part and simply make the needed modifications. In warmer climates their den may simply be a hollowed tree. They do tend to have under ground dens the further north they live. The kits are weaned in six weeks, and begin to hunt on their own at four months.
     The young foxes as a rule stay with the parents until they are eight to ten months of age. Even with the continued support of their parents, approximately 50% of them die before their first birthday. At best their average life expectancy is only about four years. Whether they live north or south of the border, the grey fox is struggling to survive. Misunderstood and under appreciated, their benefits far outweigh what mischief they may get into. Contrary to the old expression a “fox in the henhouse,” studies conclude that it is not a common occurrence.
     Remember, the dry windy season has arrived once again. Be extremely careful with fires, as they can quickly get out of hand. Better yet, don’t start one. The babies are especially vulnerable as they cannot escape the smoke and flames. Do your part to protect wildlife and their habitat. Also worth noting during this time of year—burning permits are required.