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Foxes at Home in Suburbia

Foxes are increasingly raising their young in suburban areas as their natural habitat continues to decrease in size due to commercial and residential development.

A popular phrase may need some retooling after this year’s wildlife “baby season” runs its course.

If foxes are still as sly as we once believed them to be, it is not in the way of going unnoticed.

Foxes are among a bounty of animals that are finding a snug home in suburbia, says Laura Simon, field director of the urban wildlife program of the Humane Society of the United States.  

“We sort of pushed them out of their natural habitat and they have no problem living with us,” says Simon. Once driven away by development of their natural habitat – such as a forest or a field – foxes are quick to adapt to wooded suburban areas, rearing their young under decks or sheds, she says. The dens generally house two to six foxes – usually a mother, father and a couple kits.

“The number of fox calls we get grows every year,” says Simon, who estimates she receives five to six calls a day concerning foxes during May, the peak month for phone calls relating to all wildlife in the rearing season. 

Homeowners who call Simon’s hotline often worry about the safety of their children and small pets if a skulk of foxes takes residency in the backyard, but there are several reasons why they need not fret, she says.

Foxes focus on small prey, such as chipmunks, mice and squirrels, says Simon, adding that the average fox weighs 12 to 14 pounds and generally does not hunt animals that would require an “ambitious undertaking.”

“They look bigger because of their fur,” she says. “They aren’t looking to tangle with cats and dogs.”

A rare reason for serious worry, though, is if the fox looks sick or drunk, as those are the telltale signs of rabies, says Laura Selvaggio Burban, director of the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter in Branford.

But cases of rabid foxes are scarce because of their small size and DNA makeup, says Selvaggio Burban. She says usually they won’t survive past three days of first contracting the disease, and a rabid fox is not out to hunt or is as aggressive as other suburban wildlife that may be rabid such as a raccoon. 

Most of the time if there are foxes on the estate, there is no threat and it’s just a matter of waiting it out, says Selvaggio Burban. Once the kits are old enough to hunt on their own – usually at about six weeks is when training starts – the family typically relocates the den, she says. And if you don't want to wait, loud music usually works to shoo away foxes, she adds. 

“As spring moves on they’ll be teaching their babies how to hunt … by the end of May, calls will be coming in about people thinking they’re being invaded,” says Selvaggio Burban of when the parents bring the kits out and show them how to hunt a squirrel for example.

“They tend to move from den to den,” says Simon. “Most animals don’t stay in one den, they don’t want to attract prey.”

But before they move on, Simon says homeowners should appreciate the company.

She says foxes are a huge benefit to people because they serve as “free rodent control,” scooping up those bothersome squirrels always neck-deep in the bird feeder. 

“It’s very good for people to live with wildlife,” says Simon.

However, living with wildlife should not include feeding wildlife, she says.

“We strongly discourage feeding them because then they become dependent and start begging,” says Simon. “It’s very detrimental to the foxes and people love to feed them [but] it’s not doing them a favor.”

One harmless form of interaction would be to treat the foxes as a bit of entertainment.

Katy Prete, an administrative assistant at the Branford animal shelter, tells people who call the shelter to grab a camera and trap the foxes in film.

“Get a camera,” she says, “that’s a great photo op.”

Kirsten M. Walker May 07, 2011 at 11:29 AM
My neighbors and I have been watching a family in the Fans Rock Road area. The female has been around more and more in the past 2 years but this year was the first time for kits/cubs/pups. I just wrote a piece about Fox for the the state website about this subject. http://www.kids.ct.gov/kids/cwp/view.asp?a=2577&q=475862 We need to watch and enjoy and learn from nature but not meddle in their affairs. The camera idea, a good one! Thanks for sharing.

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