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Mammals

Gray Fox
(Urocyon cinereoargenteus)

Photo: California Dept. of Water Resources, Public Domain
Gray fox standing on rocks.

Did You Know?

  • Gray foxes are good tree climbers.
  • Grey foxes are slightly smaller and weigh less than red foxes.

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Positive Benefits

Gray foxes are omnivores, eating a mix of plants and animals. They help control rabbit and small mammal populations and can consume large quantities of insects during the summer.

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Description & Identification

Gray foxes are a grizzled gray color, having cream colored fur tipped with black. The fur on their underside is light tan, often tipped with reddish fur. They have a line of black fur extending down the top of their tails to the tip. The cheeks and throat are white with this band of light fur extending the length of the belly to the tail. The backs of their ears and the sides of their neck are a rusty orange. Their legs and feet can be rusty orange or grizzled gray.

Photo: Jerry Litynski
Gray fox on a path.

They are slightly smaller in size than red foxes, typically weighing between eight and 14 pounds.

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Size Comparison

 

Illustrator: Lynn Smith
Man and gray fox illustration
Size comparison of a six-foot tall man and a gray fox.

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Signs: Tracks & Scat

The tracks of gray foxes can be hard to distinguish from those of red foxes, though the gray fox leaves slightly smaller tracks. The front tracks are slightly larger than the rear tracks, measuring 1.3 to 2.1 inches long by 1.1 to 1.5 inches wide. Their hind feet have semi-retractable claws, so the claw marks do not always appear on the rear tracks.

Gray fox droppings are similar to red fox droppings, resembling small dog droppings. The appearance depends upon the fox’s diet and may include bone, fur, feathers or seeds.

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Distribution & Abundance

Gray foxes are found statewide in areas with deciduous forests. They prefer a  mix of wooded and open areas to heavy forest, but are also found on the edges of towns and subdivisions.

They are more common in southern Illinois and in wooded areas along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. In Illinois, they are less common than red foxes.

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Behavior & Ecological Role

Photo: Steve Wayne, Painet Inc., IDNR image library
Gray foxes often climb trees to hunt or when they feel threatened.

Gray foxes are good at climbing trees, and often do so when they are startled or to hunt. They climb by grasping the tree trunk with their forelegs and pushing up with their hind legs.

Gray foxes are omnivores, eating a mix of plants and animals. They help control small mammal populations and can consume large quantities of insects during the summer.

They are most active at night, usually sleeping during the day in dens, dense shrubs, or hollowed trees or logs.

 

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Diseases & Public Health

Gray foxes are susceptible to rabies and canine distemper, but seem to be resistant to sarcoptic mange, which is caused by mites. They are not considered a public health threat.

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Habitat & Food

Gray foxes are found in or near deciduous forests.

Gray foxes are omnivores, eating a mix of plants and animals. Rabbits make up a majority of their diet, but they also eat mice, voles and a range of berries, fruits and plants. During the summer, fruits and insects are heavily consumed.

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Reproduction & Longevity

Gray foxes breed January through March, with a gestation period of about 53-63 days. Most young are born in April and May, and they are usually weaned by three months. Typical litters are three to five pups, which live with the male and female in family groups until the pups are about four months old. They are on their own after that, and females can breed by the time they are 10 months old.

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Damage Prevention & Control Measures

Gray foxes tend to be secretive animals and do not often cause problems.

Habitat Modification

Control rabbit and small mammal populations to reduce the likelihood that a fox will use your property.

Exclusion

To protect poultry, make sure that fences are secure. Wire fencing should be buried at least 12 to 24 inches below ground to prevent foxes from digging underneath the fence. Wire mesh fences should have openings less than three inches to prevent foxes from squeezing through the fence. Since gray foxes are good climbers, it will be necessary to add a wire roof to keep determined foxes out. Providing a shed or other enclosure will help protect poultry. All doors or other openings should be shut at night. Predation of poultry occurs most frequently during late spring and summer when adults are busy feeding their young.

Repellents & Frightening Devices

There are currently no approved repellents for gray foxes in Illinois.

Frightening devices are typically ineffective at deterring foxes.

Removal

If a gray fox is taking poultry or causing other problems, they may be trapped and removed if a permit has been issued. If you want to hire someone to remove the fox for a fee, contact a nuisance wildlife control operator. If you want to trap the animal yourself, you will need an animal removal PERMIT from an Illinois Department of Natural Resources district wildlife biologist. The biologist can provide information on capture and disposal techniques.

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