The little foxes
A common gray fox. Photo courtesy of Keli Hendricks.
Last month I got a call from Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue asking me to check out an injured fox in Temelec. My husband and I are both on the Field Rescue Team, and we immediately went to pick up the fox. The gentleman who called directed us to his back yard, where we saw a beautiful gray fox lying on his patio. After many years of rescuing wildlife, I know that when you can walk right up to a wild animal, it is in very bad shape. Humans are perceived as predators by all wild animals, and rightly so. Their first reaction upon seeing a human is to get away.
The fox’s breathing was very shallow. The man who called said that it had been in his yard for a while, and had been standing and trembling before laying down. My educated guess was that this fox was a victim of rodenticide poisoning. Mice are a primary food source for these guys, and when a mouse gets poisoned, and is then eaten by a wild (or domestic) mammal or raptor, that animal gets the poison as well. The poison builds up in their bodies, and eventually they die a slow, agonizing death. It’s ironic, as many of these non-targeted animals are so beneficial. They provide a natural and free pest control service for us.
Shortly after we arrived at SCWR, the fox died. He appeared to have been in beautiful condition until the poison got him. Seeing him lying there taking his last breath is a sight I’ll never forget. It is a good thing that those terrible rodenticides have been taken off the market for individuals. Pest control operators can still use them however.
The common gray fox is our native fox. They are small, ranging from five to 10 pounds. Marco, my medium sized cat is 11 pounds, and looks much smaller than a fox, but that is because the gray fox has a beautiful full coat and a long bushy tail. Their fur is a silvery gray, with patches of yellow, russet, brown or white on their throat and belly. Their tails have a black tip. Their legs are somewhat short and stocky. They are lovely creatures.
Gray foxes can climb trees! Because of this, they can obtain a greater variety of foods. They are omnivores whose diet consists primarily of insects, mice, gophers and other small rodents, berries, and, during nesting season, birds and their eggs. They usually don’t bother domestic poultry. They are excellent hunters.
They are usually nocturnal, but you can often see them in the daytime. They have adapted to living among humans very well, so one can see them in rural as well as urban settings.
We’ll be seeing baby foxes in a few months, as mating season will soon start. The average litter is three to five kits. One very nice thing about gray foxes is that both Mom and Dad raise the kits. In addition to their natural habitat, foxes may den under decks and sheds when they have their young. Fox kits are quite playful and fun to watch should you be lucky enough to do so.
One can also see red foxes in this area. They are not native, but are descendants of fur farm foxes that escaped. They are quite a bit larger than gray foxes and compete with them for food and dens.
Last month, there was exciting news in Yosemite when camera traps captured images of a Sierra Nevada red fox, which is native to that area. That is a very rare fox, one of the rarest mammals in North America. Prior to these recent sightings, that species hadn’t been seen there in about 100 years.
Sharon Ponsford is a a longtime volunteer with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue and a former board member of the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators. She lives in Glen Ellen. If you have questions or would like to ask her about our local wildlife, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.