The Gray Fox
What would you call a member of the wild dog family (Canidae) sitting comfortably overhead in a tree in Clark County Wetlands Park? If it is a Gray Fox (Urocyron cinereoargenteus), you would call it completely normal! In fact, these beautiful, graceful silver-gray foxes have been given the nickname “Tree Fox” for their climbing ability.
Tree climbing is unusual for most canids, to say the least. But Gray Foxes are unusual dogs. They have long, hooked claws that are semi-retractable and the ability to rotate their “wrists.” Tree-climbing is all in a day’s work for them.
They can climb vertical trunks without any branches, jump from branch to branch, and descend safely either by jumping to lower branches or backing slowly down like domestic cats do. They may climb to escape predators like coyotes, search for food like birds and their nesting eggs, or just relax in the sunshine. Even dens for raising their young may be in tree hollows up to thirty feet above ground!
Gray Foxes are more omnivorous than other North American foxes. Like other foxes, small mammals do make up most of their diet, but insects and birds become important in spring. As the growing season advances, fruits, nuts, and berries may make up 70% of the food eaten. Reptiles, including snakes and lizards are on the menu, too!
Just think – when you are walking the trails in Wetlands Park, birds might not be the only animals overhead. You might be walking right under a Gray Fox curled up in its day bed thirty feet above the ground!
Please enjoy these two YouTube videos:
1. Gray Fox on a Riparian trail
2. Gray Fox youngsters climbing trees
– Chris Leavitt, Friends President; photo courtesy of Philip Martini