Red fox sightings rare in Southeast Texas

Published 10:36 pm Wednesday, May 24, 2006

    When I was a kid, red foxes were common in the woods I used to hunt and fish in around West Orange.

    One particular set of woods had a bunch of them and my friends and I would see them with such frequency that it was no big deal. And in those days seeing any kind of predator was a big deal to us.

    Last weekend, I saw a road-killed red fox just outside of Bridge City and it was sadly the first one I have seen in the region for a numbers of years. I know there are still some around but their populations have declined dramatically.

    A big part of this population decline is likely because of the large number of coyotes in the region. Orange, Jefferson and Chambers Counties are infested with coyotes and if there is one thing coyotes do not tolerate it red foxes.

    Recent studies in Virginia where coyotes have just shown up in the last 25 years show that coyotes will purposely kill off red foxes when their ranges overlap. Foxes are quite a bit smaller than coyotes so there is no real chance for a fox to defend itself, other than retreating.

    Studies conducted in Minnesota have shown similar results and it is an accepted fact that when coyotes move in, fox populations decline.

    For those of us who love viewing wildlife that is a real shame since red foxes exhibit some fascinating traits.

    Red foxes are one of the most widely distributed mammals in the world with populations throughout the United States, through Mexico, into South America and throughout Asia and Europe.

   Along the East Coast, they are found in city parks and woodlots. Like the coyote, they are highly adaptable and are just as adept at catching rats in alleys as they are eating rabbits and quail in the wild.

   They are omnivorous, meaning that they eat both plant and animal material. Their preferred food is meat, but when berries are ripe for example, they will gorge themselves, making the best of whatever is easies to fill their bellies.

   As predators, they have long, thin canine teeth that help to puncture deeper than coyotes for example. This allows them to disperse of prey larger than them in short order. A lengthy kill could cause them problems due to their small size.

   I once heard the story of a farmer who watched a fox tangle with a big rooster in his chicken yard. The fox, which he described as a young one, did not get the element of surprise and found the rooster to be a more than worthy adversary. The fox retreated but not before the farmer shot it with his rifle.

   That might not seem very “sly” as foxes are referred to as but they are quite the intelligent predator and have been known to elude entire packs of hounds on organized fox hunts. The fox described above simply did not get a chance to develop its wits.

    Red foxes have a cousin in local woodlands called the gray fox, which is sometimes referred to as the “cat fox”. They are a bit smaller and seem to do better in the presence of coyotes.

    Perhaps it is because they are good climbers that will nest in hollowed trees and maybe it is due to their diminutive size but coyotes seem to get along better with grays than reds.

    Box fox species are beautiful and seeing them in the wild is always a treat. I have been fortunate enough to see many of both species and must admit I have a soft spot for the red.

    Their beauty in nature is almost unmatched in my opinion.

     When you are out in the woods or along local waterways keep your eyes open, you might be lucky enough to get a glimpse of a red fox. They are rare sighting nowadays, but as I have learned over the years you never know what you are going to see out there, if you take the time to look.

(To contact Chester Moore, e-mail him at You can hear him on the radio Fridays from 6-7 p.m. on Newstalk AM 560 KLVI.)

Chester Moore, Jr. is the Port Arthur News Outdoors Editor

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