This month, Dennis Ferraro, University of Nebraska Extension, writes about what he considers one of the most elegant-looking animals in the state.
The red fox is commonly found throughout the entire state of Nebraska except for the driest parts of the Sand Hills where its populations are spotty. This small canid (or dog-like mammal) has a fine reddish dorsal pelage coupled with black tipped ears and snout that create stunning features. A grayish white underside with black socks and a long white tipped bushy tail top off the amazing appearance of this creature. With a sleek weight of only 8 -10 pounds, this animal is a stealthy hunter.
Rabbits make up a majority of their diet in most of Nebraska. Rodents such as voles, woodrats, pocket gophers, and muskrats are also common prey for them in Nebraska. Occasionally, when available, small ground-dwelling birds, insects, crayfish, carrion, and a few fruits are incorporated into their diet. Most prey is eaten at the site of capture, yet feeding of young and the hiding or caching of food items has been noted. If a red fox hides any food, it is commonly put into a shallow depression and then covered with soil and leaves.
The red fox prefers habitats that integrate different types of ecosystems that are adjacent to each other. These edge locations make excellent habitats for the species. One great example of an edge is where wooded areas meet up with wetland or creek communities. On the acreage, windbreaks combined with landscape shrubs and a pond create a fox paradise.
Most red foxes have a home range of 1 to 3 square miles. The boundaries of individual home ranges are marked by scent. Usually, a red fox only displays home range or territorial security close to a denning or nesting location. These defenses rarely involve any physical conflict.
Dens may consist of hollow logs, brush piles, or culverts. Foxes frequently dig dens on sunny slopes. The dens are about 4 to 6 feet deep with two 8- to10-inch diameter entrances.
The red fox commonly mates during the months of January or February in Nebraska. They only mate once per year. Young are born in March or April. The male fox will supply the female and pups with food for up to 7 or 8 weeks. At eight weeks of age the pups will begin hunting prey with the adults.