The red fox lives here in the east panhandle and is doing well.
Populations appear to be healthy, and sightings are not uncommon in Jefferson and Berkeley counties. My time abroad has increased in recent years and with it my sightings of the red fox. Perhaps these days I have more time to walk in the woods, chop firewood, and enjoy field trips during West Virginia hunting season, which I am happy to say has resulted in my seeing more red foxes than ever before .
For the readers of this article, I will focus on the red fox, which can be identified by its reddish-orange fur, canine-like head, black boots, and white-tipped tail.
I have also observed the red fox’s distant cousin, the gray fox. This fox differs in color with a light salt and pepper gray. The features of the face are also different, as it has a more feline face, a dark racing stripe down the back, and a black-tipped tail. Its diet also differs and it seems to prefer a more heavily wooded habitat than the red fox. The gray fox can also climb trees due to its retractable claws.
While the gray is also present and plentiful in the eastern Panhandle, the two do not like sharing their habitat. The gray is more aggressive and will often push a red fox out of its territory.
I have enjoyed spotting red foxes for the past 34 years. Based on my observations in several locations, they prefer farmland, farmland, and forested rows of trees. I’ve seen them near and near the Millville quarry property, the Cattail Run river drainage, Harpers Ferry backyards and Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, Summit Point, Shepherdstown and Middleway to name a few.
The red fox is more commonly seen in the early morning and at dusk. During their breeding season they are active throughout the day. The fox breeding season is underway and pups are usually born in spring around March or April. Average litters can consist of two to six puppies. They tend to use ledges, fence lines, fallen trees, and old farm structures for their dens.
The red fox’s diet includes small mammals, mice, cottontails, birds, eggs, insects, and fruits. They’ll show up at your chicken coops, tear up your trash, and stalk pets, including puppies and cats.
I saw two foxes on my daughter’s porch chasing her cat, a 20 pounder! The foxes had cornered the cat, but the cat was big and hissed and howled. His fur was puffed up and I suppose the foxes decided it was more cat than they wanted.
Because of its healthy population, West Virginia allows licensed hunters and trappers to trap foxes during the annual hunting and trapping season, which currently lasts through February 28th. Fur prices in the market vary. The quality of the pelts and consumer demand determine the price a trapper gets – sometimes $50-70 per pelt.
Much like the coyote, foxes, both red and gray, continue to adapt to their surroundings even as they face the loss of their natural habitat due to increased development and pressure from humans.
Foxes are afraid of people and avoid us. We should respect them, observe them from afar, protect their habitat and appreciate their beauty. In this way we can admire the foxes of the Eastern Panhandle for generations to come.
Facts about the red fox:
• Typically the size of a small dog, 9-12 pounds.
• Foxes are non-migratory and will live in the same area throughout their lives.
• The fox is clever and an expert at outwitting his enemies who are stalking him.
• The red fox is found throughout West Virginia.
See you next week, go out and enjoy nature.