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  Gray Fox - Scientific name Urocyon cinereoargenteus 


Distribution & Abundance  |  Habitat  |  Habits  |  Foods  |  Reproduction  |  Conservation



Gray fox photo by Illinois DNR From 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.

Habitat
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.

Habits
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.

Foods
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 foods.

Reproduction
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 old.

Conservation
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.

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