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Yard list — Gray fox

Saturday morning while walking through our neighborhood to the Park, E and I saw one of the local Gray Foxes. We didn’t have a camera! Too bad; it posed obligingly and let us admire it for quite a while: a beautiful, delicate zorro with a most magnificent tail.  It looked just like this:

Photo of Gray Fox by Patti McNeal

Photo of Gray Fox by Patti McNeal

Desert Gray Foxes are quite arboreal: we frequently see them up mesquite trees and running along the tops of the block walls that criss-cross our neighborhood. They jump-climb the 6-foot walls easily, and also use them for somewhat coyote-proof napping eyries. Gray foxes rely on their subtle coloration to den out in the open — when they kip they coil up so that none of their black details show, enabling them, like owls, to hide in plain sight. The very first gray fox I ever saw was on a road embankment by the Mississippi River north of St. Louis: the fox was curled nearly invisibly in the thin winter grasses, right on the dirt about at eye level. As we drove past it on a gravel road it barely raised its head to look at us, but the movement revealed its dark eyes and “tear-lines”. If it hadn’t we never would have seen it.

I borrowed the photo above by Patti McNeal, who found this animal in Terlingua Texas. I’ve never managed a photo of a fox that’s any good, although I have been to Terlingua TX. Just for local interest, to the right is a photo I took, blurred and hard to see, of one of our local Grays napping on a neighbor’s wall in the dusk.


Foxes are canids, but not Canis, the genus of dogs, wolves, coyotes, and jackals. The Gray fox has its own genus: Urocyon, which is from Greek ὀυρά, tail, and κύων, dog. Its species is cinereoargenteus, from Latin cinis, ash, plus L. argenteus, of silver. Put them together, and its name means “silvery ashy-black dog-tail“. In case you’re wondering, the genus of the Red fox and other “true foxes” is Latin Vulpes, meaning “fox”, which does NOT give us our word “fox.” That is said to be derived through Old English from Old German fukh (the modern German word for fox is fuchs), derived from the Proto-Indo-European root puk- which means “tail.”

Terlingua Texas in 1936, NPS photo by

Terlingua Texas in 1936, NPS photo by George A. Grant

Posted by Allison on Nov 15th 2008 09:33 pm | 7 Comments
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7 Responses to “Yard list — Gray fox”

  1. Nancy Davidsonon 09 Aug 2010 at 4:58 pm link comment

    i Would like to know if a Fox is a danger to my domistic cats?

  2. Allisonon 09 Aug 2010 at 5:35 pm link comment

    Nancy, I’m not an expert. And I don’t know where you live. But I can tell you that in the Sonoran desert, our Gray foxes are fairly small animals, weighing under 10 pounds, less than most adult domestic cats. They eat a variety of foods, from reptiles to mesquite pods to insects to small mammals like mice. They will scavenge roadkill, too. Though they are predators, I would think it’s very likely that a fox would leave a full grown cat alone. A coyote, unrestrained pet dogs, and feral cats would all be much more of a threat to your cats than a fox.
    To be on the safe side, though, and to keep your cats safe from predation, injury, or disease from wild animals, it might be a good idea to bring them inside, especially at night. My own cats are totally indoor pets — we’ve got coyotes and great horned owls in the area, and our creampuffs wouldn’t last 5 minutes in the great outdoors!

  3. pete Whiddenon 17 Oct 2010 at 12:24 pm link comment

    I live in a rural area where I can observe grey fox and feral cats feeding together on dry cat food. The fox seems to have a small tender mouth as compared to the coyote. The coyote will go after the cats . I have not seen a fox go after cats .

  4. sandraon 23 Nov 2010 at 2:11 am link comment

    I have been photographing the gray foxes who live behind my home in central Florida for over a year after one of the foxes came to my doorstep and asked me to help her get a mayo jar off her little kits head!
    I knew at that moment that an intervention was in the process and it opened my eyes to all the wildlife around me. You see I live on 11 acres of land but never knew the foxes were there until this happened.( I am sure the foxes have been very aware of me, however, and knew me not to be a threat.)
    The sight of the little fox with the jar on his head in JULY was very disconcerting to say the least and I was determined that this story would have a happy …ending and it did.

    I was able to make this happen and gave the little guy back to his mom.
    From that day on all the foxes seemed relaxed and carefree around me and my camera. It is a beautiful thing indeed.

    I have had two litter of foxes grow up on my property now and the mother fox of Jarhead is still around too. She comes and goes but visits me often. She will sit in the yard and look up at my window when I am working. It always makes my day to see her.
    As far as cats and foxes go…..
    At first I was afraid to let my cats out once I was aware of the foxes but honestly, my cats are as intrigued by the foxes as I am.
    They love to sit out in the yard when I give the foxes some treats just watching them no more than 15 feet away.
    Everybody gets along famously!
    I have NO worry at all that the foxes will hurt my cats so that might put that myth to an end. I have a fox video blog you might enjoy taking a look at. I am trying to show the docile side and sweetness of the gray foxes so that people won’t be afraid of them and won’t harm them either.

    you can view my videos at

    All the best for your future fox watching!

    ” A Fox is a Wolf who Brings Flowers”

    Sandra Russell

  5. […] under the tree, as a present?  I almost forgot: a quick daylight glimps of a gray fox, too quick to photo, but with a glorious bushy tail flowing in its […]

  6. Bon Traisteron 25 Dec 2010 at 3:52 pm link comment

    We had two gray fox’s in our frount yard on 12-23-10 in Woodcrest in Riverside County California. Our neighbor sad she found the mother and babys in her field just after birth, they are about 6 months old now and were hunting cotten tail rabbits that roam freeley on our property. They are beautiful animals. They werre gonr before we could get the camera.

  7. […] tail is key — here’s a bit reposted from an earlier post on our gray […]

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