Red Fox European Feral Fox

red fox or European fox

Photo: Red fox in profile

The red fox is a medium-sized opportunistic omnivore with rusty reddish-brown fur, large ears and a large bushy white-tipped tail. It is a member of the Canidae family, which also includes wolves, coyotes, and domestic dogs. The red fox's scientific name is Vulpes vulpes.

In Australia, the red fox is also known as the European Red Fox and Feral Fox.

Red Fox (Feral Fox) in Australia - Kills Native Wildlife


Red Fox Appearance What is a Red Fox?

Photo: Red fox running

The red fox has a rusty reddish-brown coat above and a white underside to its chin, throat, chest, and sometimes its belly. It has an acute muzzle (a 'fox face') with a black nose and yellow eyes with vertical pupils.

The red fox is 90-105 cm (36-42in) in length from nose to tail. Its size is dependent on their geographic location, with those in the cooler climates being larger than those in the arid environments. Adult male foxes usually weigh around 6 kg, and females weigh about 5 kg.

The red fox has large ears with an acute sense of hearing can hear sounds over 35 meters away. Its large bushy tail helps the fox balance and acts as a warm blanket to snuggle into when sleeping in cold weather, and is used as a signal flag to other foxes.

Foxes have long, sharp teeth and sharp extendible claws, making them excellent grabbers, climbers, and burrowers. Foxes can also run at speeds of up to 48kph (30mph), a great asset in catching prey. With their acute sense of hearing, they can easily locate small animals hidden in vegetation.

Can Foxes Climb Trees?

Yes, foxes can climb trees! They are lightweight, agile, have semi-retractable claws, and  strong legs with flexible ankles. These adaptations allow foxes to climb trees in search of young birds, eggs and even a baby koala.

While classified as nocturnal animals, foxes are, in fact, crepuscular. That is, they are most active during the evening and early mornings. The fox is a solitary animal that may travel up to 15 kilometres within its home range in a single foray.


Red Fox Sounds What Do Red Foxes Sound Like?

Video: Listen to the sounds foxes make

Foxes use sounds to communicate with each other. They have about 28 different vocalisations, including greeting, threat, defensive, excitement, fighting, and submissive calls.

The most frequently heard red fox vocalisations are a quick series of barks and eerie screamy howls. Fox vocalisations are higher-pitched than that of a dog because foxes are usually much smaller than dogs. The barks are very high-pitched, almost yippy ow-wow-wow-wow sounds. Its bark is sometimes mistaken for an owl hooting.

10 Red Fox Facts

  1. Even though a fox is related to wolves and dogs, it has more in common with a cat.
  2. It has spines on its tongue to clean itself, can retract its claws, has prominent whiskers and vertical pupils.
  3. Foxes can make around 28 different sounds.
  4. A group of foxes is called a skulk, leash or earth.
  5. The fox hunts alone and can hear prey up to 35m away.
  6. A fox's pounce is known as 'mousing'.
  7. Foxes use the earth's magnetic field to judge the distance and direction of their prey.
  8. In Australia, adult foxes have no native predators.
  9. The fox threatens the survival of 76 species of native Australian animals.
  10. It is considered a pest, causing $227.5 million per year in economical and environmental damage.

Red Fox Habitat and Distribution Where does the Red Fox Live?

Photo: Red fox habitat map

Foxes are native to the northern hemisphere, including Europe, temperate Asia, northern Africa, and North America. Since 1855, they have also inhabited Australia.

They have adapted to many different habitats, ranging from desserts, arid areas, alpine regions, farmland, and even suburbia. Foxes are widely distributed throughout Australia except in the wet tropic to the north and on the island of Tasmania.

Foxes have well-defined home ranges that vary in size from 2 to 5 sq kilometres depending on the type of habitat, the population density of foxes, and the availability of food. They scent-mark their territory with urine, scats (droppings), and secretions from their anal glands. Foxes defend their home ranges with aggressive and non-aggressive posturing and vocal communications.

During the day, it rests hidden in a tree or log hollow, in abandoned rabbit burrows, or in dense undergrowth. It may have several such resting places throughout its home range.


Red Fox Diet & Hunting What Does a Red Fox Eat?

Foxes prefer rabbits but will eat rodents, frogs, birds, insects, eggs, lizards, fruit and edible human waste. They also eat domestic livestock such as poultry, lambs, goat kids, and deer fawns. Foxes are highly adaptable opportunistic predators and scavengers with indiscriminate eating habits. They set out individually on their hunting forays in the evening or early each morning. They consume about 0.5 kilograms of food each day. When food is plentiful, 95% of a fox’s diet consists of meat, both hunted and scavenged, and mainly rabbits, rodents, birds, and small mammals. Insects and worms may constitute another 4%, and the remaining 1% may consist of fruit. During times of food shortage, they are less discerning, eating whatever is available, including a large percentage of insects and plant matter.

Hunting Strategy

Photo: Fox pouncing on its prey

When hunting, they target animals under 5 kgs in weight. With their quick reflexes, foxes kill by attacking the head and neck of their victim and inflicting several deep bites and punctures predominately around the neck.

Wasteful Consumer

While it may consume small prey in their entirety, foxes can also be wasteful predators that leave large portions of their victims uneaten. For example, they may eat only the head and neck of larger birds such as poultry. In the case of larger prey, they may eat only the tail, ears, tongues, and internal organs, leaving the rest of the carcass uneaten.

Surplus Killing Behaviour and Food Caching

The fox eats until its appetite is satisfied. Once its hunger is satisfied, it continues to hunt, scavenge and cache; unnecessarily killing additional animals beyond its immediate dietary requirements. This behavioural characteristic is called Surplus Killing Behaviour. This wasteful behaviour has contributed significantly to the demise of many native animals.

Foxes also cache food. That is, they bury surplus food in several locations for consumption during hard times. This food is frequently never retrieved and hence wasted.


Red Fox Reproduction Red Fox Babies are Called 'Kits'

Photo: Fox pups (also called kits or cubs)

Female foxes (vixens) mate once a year during the mating season, from mid-June to the end of July. Foxes generally form social groups only during the breeding season. These social groups consist of a dominant male and female together and several subordinate females who don’t produce litters themselves but help rear the young of the dominant female instead. Male and female foxes form monogamous pairs during this time.

After a gestation period of approximately 53 days, the vixen gives birth to a litter of 4 to 6 blue-grey coloured babies, called kits. The vixen remains in the den for the first two weeks after the birth of her kits to feed and protect them. During this time, the male fox brings her food and regurgitates it to feed her. At about two weeks, the vixen leaves her kits alone in their den while she goes hunting. When the kits are about three weeks old, they start consuming regurgitated food that their mother provides them. Kits begin to make their first tentative moves out of the den when they are about five weeks old, and when they are about nine weeks old, they abandon the den and start to live on the surface. At about three months of age, they start hunting for small prey and are entirely independent by about nine months and set out to establish themselves in new home ranges of their own. Young foxes reach sexually mature in 9-10 months and are ready in time for the next mating season.

The average life expectancy of a fox is between 2 to 3 years.


Red Fox in Australia

How Did Red Foxes get to Australia? Who Introduced Red Foxes to Australia?

Photo: The sport of fox hunting

The European red fox (Feral foxes) was first introduced into Tasmania, Australia in 1833  for the sport of fox hunting. These animals did not survive in their new environment because the native Tasmanian Devil, found only on this island, out-competed the fox. In 1855 foxes were again introduced near Melbourne, Victoria, by wealthy pastoralists for the recreational sport of fox hunting. In 1871 additional foxes were released in Geelong and Ballarat.

Tasmanian Devil Outfoxed the Fox

The fox has never established itself in Tasmania. It seems that the more aggressive Tasmanian Devil found there outfoxed the fox by out-competing it as a hunter and scavenger, including digging up and consuming the fox's cached food supply. This is a rare example where a native Australian animal has succeeded against an introduced one.


Red Fox Spreads Throughout Australia How Foxes in Australia Become Invasive

Photo: Fox chasing a rabbit

Once introduced, foxes spread rapidly throughout the Australian mainland. They were reported in New South Wales by 1893, South Australia by 1901, Queensland by 1907 and Western Australia by 1912. Within twenty years of their introduction, foxes were so numerous and destructive that they were officially declared a pest in Victoria. Within just 100 years of their first release in Australia, they had spread across vast distances of thousands of kilometres. Their expansion closely matched the spread of rabbits, another introduced animal also released in Geelong, Victoria, in 1859. This rapid expansion was due to two reasons. Firstly, foxes were following a plentiful food supply, namely rabbits. Secondly,  humans continued to intentionally introduce foxes into areas that they had not been in before to control the population explosion of rabbits. Unfortunately, the fox was also devouring native wildlife at prodigious rates.

Today, there are over 7.5 million feral foxes in Australia.


Red Fox Impact on Australian Ecosystem The Red Fox is a Pest in Australia

Photo: Fox with its pry - a bandicoot

Red foxes are devastating to Australian wildlife. They threaten the survival of 48 types of mammals, 14 species of birds, 12 varieties reptiles, and 2 types of amphibians. Foxes have already contributed to the extinction of several native animals.

Red foxes are indiscriminate feeders, they wreak havoc on native wildlife not accustomed to an apex predator such as the fox. Many native animals include ground-nesting birds such as the night parrot, and animals such as the quokkas, wallabies, and native rodents, many of which are endangered or vulnerable, fall prey to the fox. It has been suggested that foxes contributed to the extinction of the Desert rat-kangaroo.

Foxes also cause significant economic losses to farmers by preying on poultry, young lambs, and goats. An unsubstantiated claim puts the total annual cost of foxes to Australia’s environment and economy at $227.5 million per year.

Because of its destructive nature, European red fox has been declared an invasive species, pest, and vermin in Australia.