[Reprinted from original]
The red fox is alive and well here in the Eastern Panhandle.
Populations appear to be healthy, and sightings are not uncommon in Jefferson and Berkeley counties. My time afield has increased in the last few years and so have my sightings of the red fox. Perhaps I have more time these days to walk in the woods, cut firewood and enjoy outings during the West Virginia hunting seasons, which I’m happy to say has resulted in seeing more red foxes than ever before.
For the readers of this article, I’m focused on the red fox which can be identified by its reddish-orange fur, dog-like head, black boots and a white-tipped tail.
I’ve also observed the red fox’s distant cousin, the gray fox. This fox differs in color with a light shade of salt-and-pepper gray. Features of the face are different, as well, as it sports a more cat-like face, a dark racing stripe marking down the back and a black-tipped tail. Its diet differs, as well, and it appears to prefer a more heavily wooded habitat than the red fox. The gray fox also can climb trees because of its retractable claws.
While the gray also is present and abundant in the Eastern Panhandle, the two do not like to share habitat. The gray is more aggressive and will often force a red fox out of its turf.
I’ve enjoyed observing red foxes locally over the last 34 years. Based on my observations in multiple locations, they tend to prefer farmlands, crop land and wooded tree lines. I’ve seen them near and around the Millville quarry property, the Cattail Run stream drainage, Harpers Ferry backyards and the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Summit Point, Shepherdstown and Middleway, to name a few.
The red fox is more commonly seen in the early hours at dawn and at dusk. During their breeding season, they will be active all day. The fox breeding season is underway right now, and pups are typically born in the spring around March or April. Average litters can be from two to six pups. They tend to use rock outcroppings, fence lines, fallen trees and old farm structures for their dens.
The red fox’s diet includes small mammals, mice, cottontail rabbits, birds, eggs, insects and fruit. They will show up at your chicken coops, tear up your trash and pursue family pets, including pups and cats.
I witnessed two foxes on my daughter’s porch pursuing her cat, a 20-pounder The foxes had the cat cornered, but the cat was big, hissing and yowling. Its fur was puffed up and I suppose the foxes decided it was more cat than they wanted to deal with.
Because of the healthy populations, West Virginia allows licensed hunters and trappers to take foxes during the annual hunting and trapping season that currently runs from until Feb. 28. Fur prices at market will vary. The quality of the pelts and consumer demand drive the price a trapper gets — at times $50-70 per pelt.
Much like the coyote, foxes, both red and gray, continue to adapt to their surroundings, even while facing loss of natural habitat because of increased development and pressure from humans.
Foxes are afraid of humans and will avoid us. We should respect them, observe them from a distance, protect their habitat and appreciate their beauty. By doing so, we will be able to admire the foxes of the Eastern Panhandle for generations to come.