Gray Fox Behavior


Gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are a bit different than the rest of their canine.  Maybe it is because they evolved before the red fox and the coyote or maybe they gained some of their cat-like characteristics back later in their evolutionary history, but the gray fox is the most catlike of all canids.

What really sets gray foxes apart is their ability to climb.  Unlike other canines gray foxes have semi-retractable claws that stay sharp and enable gray foxes to grasp tree trunks almost like a cat.  Gray foxes can also rotate their forearms and climb by grasping a tree with their forearms and pushing up with their hind feet.  They will climb as high as 50 or 60 feet and will jump from branch to branch while up in a tree. Gray foxes climb trees for many reasons, including resting, foraging, or escaping from other predators.  They will run headfirst down sloping trees or climb down vertical trees with their head up, lowering themselves down by their front limbs.  Gray foxes in more forested regions of Mexico have even been found to have sharper and more recurved claws for climbing than gray foxes in drier nearby regions with less trees.

The next time you are out in the forest you may even be walking underneath a gray fox curled up in a comfortable day bed 30 feet off the ground!

Gray fox do share the omnivorous ways of other canines however, and in fact are the most omnivorous of the common canids in the mid-Atlantic.  They eat insects, fruit, acorns and other nuts, mammals, and birds.  They will move around their territory at the typical canine trot, sniffing out rodents and fruit with equal efficiency.  Unlike their larger cousins the coyote, gray fox do like to stay in dense cover as much as possible, often stopping and peering around for predators before they cross open areas.  They are more strongly associated with the deciduous forest than any other carnivore in the east, and typically thrive in habitat with lots of edge between forest and farm and even forest and suburb.

For more information about gray foxes:

Mammals of North America

Encyclopedia of Life

ARKive (including some great photos of gray foxes in trees!)



Elbroch, Mark and Kurt Rinehart. Behavior of North American Mammals.  New York: Houghton Mifflin,  2011. 374 pgs.

Fritzell, E.K. and K.J. Haroldson. 1982. Urocyon cinereoargenteus. Mammalian Species 189:1-8.


2 responses to “Gray Fox Behavior

  1. Pingback: Bobcat Track and Sign |·

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