Teller County is home to many species of wildlife but, so far, I’ve mostly written about the big ones — bears, deer, mountain lions and moose.
We also have abundant coyote, assorted raptors including golden eagles, hawks and owls, and all sorts of little critters.
This week I want to focus on the red fox. Did you know they are among a couple dozen species of fox worldwide? Others include the arctic, swift and even the crab-eating fox!
If you wander through Victor or Cripple Creek, you will likely see a red fox or two. They frequent the historic mining district. But they are not unique to Teller County. Far from it.
The red fox is the most widely distributed member of the canid family — which also includes wolves and coyotes — and can be found on four continents.
In fact, the range of the red fox has increased alongside human expansion as these omnivores are very good at adapting to different environments including urban areas.
Red fox are about the size of a small dog, ranging in size from 8-15 pounds. They are generally three to four feet long. Some distinguishing characteristics are their elongated muzzle, pointed ears and a bushy, white-tipped tail.
Like black bear, red fox don’t always live up to their name. They are not always red. Genetic variations result in four recognized color phases: red, cross, silver and black. The red color phase is the most common. And though the other phases are fairly rare, I have been lucky enough to see black color-phased red fox in the county more than once.
The best way to identify a red fox is by the white-tipped tail. All of the color phases will have this characteristic.
Red fox are commonly found in small groups consisting of families. These groups consist of a mated pair and their young.
Red fox have a keen sense of smell, good vision and excellent hearing. Red fox can run at speeds of 30 mph and they are good swimmers. These predators use all of these senses and skills to catch small rodents, rabbits, small birds, reptiles, invertebrates and youth ungulates like fawns.
About 5 years ago, mange swept through the coyote and fox populations in Teller County. Mange is basically a type of skin disease caused by parasitic mites that burrow into an animal’s skin, causing intense itching. The infected host is often seen scratching and biting itself to relieve the itching. Hair loss is very common and poor body condition is usually seen in infected animals.
As a result of the mange outbreak, the fox population in many parts of the county dropped. Now it is recovering. Besides mange, red fox can carry a number of diseases. However, healthy foxes pose virtually no human health risk.
Red fox are omnivores and have no trouble finding food among humans. But some people insist on feeding our wild fox. Maybe they think they are cute cousins to the family dog and dependent like a pet. But they are not. They have adapted to human development and are perfectly capable of finding their own food.
Still, I am getting calls and complaints about area residents feeding fox. Please don’t. It is illegal.
Feeding wildlife may be well intended, but it is harmful to the animal and can be dangerous for humans and wildlife. When a fox is being fed, it loses its natural fear of people. And it’s not uncommon for a fox to bite someone who is hand-feeding it — either accidentally or intentionally.
When animals are fed by humans, they tend to stay in the area. This ultimately leads to problems. For instance, foxes will prey on small pets. And there is a greater chance of spreading disease between wild fox and human pets.
To help reduce conflicts, please make sure all attractants around your residence are secure. This means trash, pet food, bird feed and anything else a wild animal might find tasty.
If there is a fox that hangs around your home in city limits and it is not scared of you, I suggest hazing it the same way we scare bears and habituated deer.
Make a rattle can to haze the fox. Get an empty soda can or two and fill them about a quarter of the way full with gravel. Then duct tape them shut. When the habituated fox comes around, shake the can and yell at the fox so it knows there is a human around. This is key. If the fox does not leave when you yell and shake the can, then toss the can at the animal’s rump or close to the animal. This will help instill a healthy fear of humans.
If the fox continues to come around and is not afraid of you, please call me. If you would like to report someone for feeding coyotes or foxes or have a question or comment, also call me at 227-5281.
Please help me keep our wildlife wild!
Tim Kroening graduated from Colorado State University with a degree in wildlife biology. He works as a District Wildlife Manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Teller County. With general questions about Colorado Parks and Wildlife, contact Tim at 227-5281.