Wild Colorado: the not-so-elusive red fox

Janice Kurbjun
summit daily news
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

Red foxes aren’t always reddish-orange in color.

They can be jet black or silver, with white accents, said Shannon Schwab, district wildlife manager with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. Such red foxes have mostly been seen in and around Silverthorne.

“They’re really beautiful animals,” she said, adding that the coloration is “just another phase of red fox.” Meaning, like chocolate, black and yellow labs, the same species can have different colors.

In Summit County, the most populous type of fox is the red fox, which is most commonly reddish orange and white with a white-tipped tail and black ears and feet. But Colorado is also home to three other types of fox – the gray, swift and kit foxes. All are about 3 feet long, but swift and kit foxes weigh less because their tails are as long as their bodies.

Each fox has its own niche habitat in Colorado, such as the gray fox’s home in brushy areas in canyons and the kit fox’s home in desert shrub-lands out west. Red fox live in the mountains as well as on the plains, and make their homes in riparian woodland and wetland areas.

The omnivorous red fox is skilled at hunting rodents, rabbits and birds (and eating their eggs) as well as insects, amphibians, fish, crawfish and earthworms. But they’ll also pick at fruits, berries and nuts.

Over the past 15 or 20 years, Schwab said, red foxes have become habituated to urban environments and their populations have grown because of it. They have adapted to Summit County’s urban settings on the fringes of the forest, particularly because of their attraction to carrion and garbage – as well as residents leaving food out for them.

People often forget that fox are wild, and that they should be left alone. Garbage can be an easy meal, Division of Wildlife officials say, so store it in wildlife-proof containers. Fruit trees, composting and pet food can also attract fox into a yard, and small pets can be easy prey.

At the same time they seek cover, food and security around people, their predators aren’t very numerous. With the two working in conjunction, the population grows – but that’s not always a good thing.

“We have this artificial spike in population, and no reason for them to die except by getting hit by a vehicle,” Schwab said. And, presumably, old age and other accidents.

Being attracted to human populations doesn’t always put the humans at risk, Schwab said. More often, it puts the animal at risk, because if it bites (because it’s expecting food), it must be euthanized and tested for disease. They may also become so comfortable, they’ll build dens near busy urban areas, while unknowing pups can wander onto the streets.

“They’re pretty cute and people like to see them around,” Schwab said, but “It’s heartbreaking to know they’ve put their dens close to people.”

Red fox often live alone, on a range 5 to 10 square miles, depending on food availability. Schwab said fox in urban settings tolerate each other in closer proximity because more food is available. Likewise, in winter, they congregate more heavily.

Though they’re solitary creatures, they’re also good parents, as both males and females will bring food back to the den.

Red fox have been spotted in Summit County at all times of day, though they tend to be more active at dawn and dusk and the nighttime hours in between. Evening and night drivers on the Summit Stage say they sometimes see several foxes on their routes. During the day, particularly in winter, fox are often curled up in their bushy tail, keeping warm in the sunshine.

Certain information for this story was drawn from the Colorado Division of Wildlife’s fox profile and Living With Wildlife information sheets.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.