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Fox rearing season may mean more sightings

Posted on: 06.17.2018 at 03:00 p.m.

By Jefferson Weaver

jeffersonweaver@nrcolumbus.com

With fox kit-rearing season peaking, biologists with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Wildlife Helpline are fielding multiple calls from concerned homeowners who see foxes in their yards and wonder what to do. Their advice? Remove all food attractants and use non-lethal deterrents to encourage foxes to leave on their own.

“Young foxes are maturing and spending much more time outside the den right now,” said Falyn Owens, the Commission’s extension biologist. “People are seeing families of foxes roaming around, exploring their environment. And while seeing foxes, even during the daytime, is usually no cause for concern, we understand that most people don’t necessarily want a family of foxes living so close to them.”

While coyotes have supplanted fox populations in many areas, foxes have also adapted, taking over territories where the larger coyote cannot hide as easily. This often includes urban areas and subdivisions, which inevitably leads to conflicts between humans and foxes.

Owens recommends the following tips to keep foxes from making a home near your home:

Never intentionally feed foxes; doing so rewards them for coming near humans. This can lead to habituation, where a wild animal loses its natural fear of humans, and in some cases may become bold or aggressive.

Feed pets indoors or remove all food and dishes when your pet is finished eating outside. Foxes and other wildlife are attracted to pet food left outdoors.

Secure garbage in containers with tight-fitting lids and take them out the morning of pick-up rather than the night before.

Clear fallen fruit from around trees.

Keep bird-feeder areas clean and use bird feeders that keep seed off the ground. Removing bird feeders entirely may be necessary if fox sightings are frequent.

It is illegal to relocate foxes in North Carolina, in part to prevent the unintentional spread of diseases. In addition to parasites and some canine-related diseases, foxes can carry rabies. Foxes continue to be one of the leading rabies vectors in Southeastern North Carolina, along with bats, raccoons and feral cats.

Homeowners should try non-lethal deterrents to make foxes uncomfortable enough to want to leave on their own.

“Foxes usually have a back-up den in case something happens to the first one,” said Mikayla Seamster, the Commission’s Human-Wildlife Interactions biologist. “Two things that work really well to get foxes to leave are 1) playing a radio on a talk show station, which mimics human presence, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until the foxes are gone; and, 2) ammonia-soaked towels or rags, which acts as a smell deterrent. You want to place these objects close to the den site, so the sound and/or smell permeate the area.”

Seamster also recommends yelling, banging pots, or using other noise making devices (airhorns, whistles, etc.) to scare foxes away. These animals want to avoid danger and will avoid areas they think put them at risk.

Not everyone, though, wants to scare away foxes. Leaving a fox den alone is an option for homeowners, as long as they stay away from the den site, leave the kits alone, walk pets on a leash, and teach children to enjoy wildlife from a safe distance.

North Carolina is home to two species of foxes: the red fox and the gray fox. The gray fox is the state’s only native fox species; red foxes were originally imported from Europe. They are both relatively small canids, standing between 12 to 16 inches high at the shoulder and weighing between 7 to 15 pounds – much smaller than an average-size Labrador Retriever.

Both species are found throughout the state, including in urban areas and suburbs. As with other wildlife species, foxes are very adaptable to changes in habitat and often see residential areas as excellent places to forage for food and raise their young.

Foxes only use a den while raising their young, so once the kits are old enough to fend for themselves, usually by mid to late summer, they will abandon the den and move on.

Homeowners should close off crawl spaces under sheds, porches, decks, and homes so foxes, and other wildlife, can’t use those areas for resting or raising young. They also can install fox-proof fencing around their home, chicken coop, or rabbit pen to protect unsupervised domestic pets and poultry.

For more information on foxes, read the Commission’s “Coexisting with Foxes” handout.

For questions regarding human interactions with foxes or other wildlife, visit ncwildlife.org/Have-A-Problem or call the Commission’s N.C. Wildlife Helpline toll-free at 866-318-2401. The call center is open Monday through Friday (excluding holidays) from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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