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280 Kane St. STE #2
South Williamsport, PA
United States

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The “Reds and Grays” of Winter

Where did that title come from; the grays of winter are obvious, but where did the red come from? What I am actually referring to are red and gray foxes, and they are both very active throughout the winter. There is no shortage of foxes in this state, but the fact is few people ever

Where did that title come from; the grays of winter are obvious, but where did the red come from? What I am actually referring to are red and gray foxes, and they are both very active throughout the winter. There is no shortage of foxes in this state, but the fact is few people ever really spot one unless it’s splattered on the road somewhere.

One of the main reasons you seldom see one is both reds and grays are mainly nocturnal — they do most of their hunting at night.

Like many other folks, I put my share of time in the woods this fall hunting deer, and I never spotted a fox; sure, in years past, I would occasionally get a glimpse of one while perched in my tree stand, but that was a rare sighting.

Recently my wife and I placed a couple of trail cameras out in the back of the house pointing to the nearby thick woods; one set to take photos and the other set to take short videos. After a week, we pulled the cards and watched the video, and to our surprise, a nice red fox appeared to come from the thickly wooded area and towards our house; later, we watched it return back to the woods. A day later, the fox again showed up on video out back. Had it not been for the trail cams, we would not have been aware of the apparent frequent visitor.

Red and gray foxes actually belong to the same family as dogs, coyotes, and wolves. Both species have very sharp senses of sight, smell, and hearing. A fox can actually hear a mouse squeal at about 150 feet; that’s interesting since my wife says I can’t hear her yelling at me from the next room.

Foxes eat whatever they can easily obtain, and that can include mice, rats, rabbits, woodchucks, opossums, squirrels, porcupines, and any other small creature that roams the woods and fields. That diet also includes birds and their eggs as well as insects and some fruits. By the way, cats roaming about are also high on their menu.

Your chances of spotting a fox may be a bit better in the winter months since they show up a lot better against the white snow. Also, foxes seldom seek shelter in holes or dens during the winter months but would rather curl up and sleep in the open with their bushy tail covering their faces to stay warm. Females are denned up in early summer, and the young begin leaving their dens by July or August. I once spotted a female and her youngsters hanging out around their den, an old groundhog hole that was located along a major highway. The den was high up on the open bank next to the woods, and I kept an eye out for them when I passed by.

Since they are seldom seen, people often think they are rare or very low in numbers. While populations may fluctuate due to a number of factors like food availability and various pressures from man, such as logging activities, it appears that Pennsylvania’s fox population is fairly stable. I looked at some past studies, and several years ago, it was estimated that the statewide average was approximately 1.4 foxes per square mile of suitable habitat; that to me seems like a lot of foxes.

Since there is apparently no shortage of foxes and we seldom get to see one, maybe the trick is to put that trail cam out in the back yard — who knows what might show up.