Five foxy facts to test your wildlife smarts

Learn more about gray foxes

Scan through current postings in our local NextDoor sites, and you’ll likely see enthusiastic postings about gray foxes.

“Foxtastic! Found this beauty sleeping on our fence today,” says a recent post from the Mont Marin area, with an image of a healthy adult fox resting atop a backyard fence. Another video post shows a young fox (called a kit) pouncing and tumbling as its mother looks on.

Though usually shy and reclusive, these mostly nocturnal members of the Canidae family–the same family as dogs, coyotes, and wolves–can be a bit more on show this time of year, as curious kits outgrow their dens and start to explore. 


With more chances to see gray foxes this time of year, we thought we’d share some interesting facts about these compact creatures (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), which thrive in and around China Camp.

  1. Gray foxes can climb trees. Sporting sharp claws designed to hook into tree bark, gray foxes are surprisingly good at climbing, whether it’s to scramble up after prey (“Squirrel!”), or to simply take an out-of-harm’s-way nap cradled high in the branches. 
  2. They eat birds eggs, berries and bugs. Gray foxes are omnivores, meaning that while they catch prey such as woodrats, rabbits, mice, gophers, insects, and snakes, foxes will also feast on ripe blackberries and other forest fruits.
  3. Gray foxes build nests. During pupping season (typically February through March), female foxes, called vixens, will den up in a protected cavity–and sometimes under a deck or building–and build a soft nest out of dry grass, leaves, and shredded bark.
  4. They don’t say much. Unlike red foxes, which are notorious for making some horrendous noises (cue up vixen’s cry if you want a sample), gray foxes aren’t known for vocalizing, though they can yip, bark, snarl, squeal, growl, and shriek, particularly during mating season.
  5. Foxes get distemper. As canids, gray foxes can catch this deadly and highly contagious disease. According to Melanie Piazza, Director of Animal Care at WildCare Wildlife Hospital in San Rafael, Unfortunately, our region is in the midst of a distemper surge, a natural event that happens roughly every seven years.

“The main source of highly contagious distemper is domestic dogs, so please be sure your dogs are vaccinated and kept on leash,” says Piazza. In China Camp, dogs are only allowed on leash in the campground, on paved roads, and at the beach at China Camp Village. Dogs are not allowed on China Camp’s trails.

The virus also spreads through water sources, such as bird baths and water troughs. “Even though there’s a drought, people should not provide water (or food) for wildlife now,” notes Piazza. “This can bring in sick animals which will then spread the deadly virus to other animals attracted to the food and water.”

Photo Credit: Gray fox image courtesy of U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service