Red foxes live in many areas of the world. They’re comfortable both in open wilderness and among human populations.
But in these environments, do they prefer to stay on the ground or climb to greater heights?
Red foxes can’t climb trees the way a cat or a gray fox does. If the branches are low enough, they can jump to them, or they can walk up low-bending tree trunks. The gray fox is the only canid that can climb trees.
Habitats of Red Foxes
Red foxes live all across North America, ranging from Alaska to Florida. It’s rare to see a fox in the Southwest of the U.S., but there is a small population that inhabits that area.
They prefer to live in open areas such as woodlands, wetlands, and open, brushy fields. This includes rural neighborhoods with human populations. But they can also live in the suburbs, foraging for trash.
Since red foxes prefer open environments, trees don’t factor much into their habits, though they can inhabit forests.
Red foxes sometimes make their dens in hollow logs or the crevices between rocks. But more often than not they dig into the ground.
Even more common is for red foxes to take over old dens from other animals, such as woodchucks or skunks.
Red foxes look for areas with loose soil and good drainage, often on slopes or ridges. If they take over an abandoned den, they could live in a large system of tunnels with at least two entrances.
These entrances are often identifiable by mounds of soil, the remains of prey, and the foxes’ droppings and urine.
The den entrances are also often near open areas. These areas allow juvenile foxes to interact with each other.
Red Foxes Don’t Climb, But Gray Foxes Do
Since trees don’t offer the adequate den space that a red fox looks for, they have less of a reason to climb. However, there is another type of fox that can use trees as a form of protection.
Red foxes and gray foxes each get their name from the coloring of their fur. However, despite their colorings, these two vulpine animals are often mistaken for one another, including when in trees.
Red foxes can sometimes have large patches of gray fur, and vice versa for gray foxes. They also share a lot of the same habitat.
This can cause people to believe they’ve seen a red fox climb a tree, but this is a rare occurrence for that species.
Gray foxes are one of the only canid species that can climb trees. They have a unique body structure that makes it easier to climb trees.
One aspect of this is their rotating wrists, and the other is their semi-retractable claws.
This is an unusual attribute for canids and makes the gray fox more similar to cats when it comes to climbing. Big cats, with the exception of the cheetah, have fully retractable claws to help them climb trees.
A gray fox only weighs 6-16 pounds (around 3-7 kg), so their semi-retractable claws are enough for them. However, they’re not great at climbing down trees.
Red Foxes Are Good Jumpers
If a red fox is seen in a tree, there’s a good chance it didn’t climb the same way a cat or a gray fox would.
Since they’re not built quite the same way, they tend to either stay on the ground or use another method to reach greater heights.
If a red fox needs to get up to a tree with a low-sloping trunk, they will walk up rather than climb.
Red foxes also jump up to low-hanging branches if they need to. Red foxes can jump over six feet (two meters) high. Their jumping abilities also factor into how these foxes hunt.
How Red Foxes Hunt
Red foxes excel at finding food, even during the winter or in urban environments. They eat a variety of prey, including rodents, rabbits, amphibians, birds, and fruit.
They are also adept at stealing food from garbage cans and farms, as well as carrion if they have to.
Mice are a primary part of a red fox’s diet. These foxes have a distinct way of hunting them.
They will stand still and listen closely for any nearby mice. Once they detect a target, they leap high into the air, bringing their front legs stiffly down in front.
This pins the mouse to the ground, allowing the fox to eat it.
One study indicated that red foxes may use the earth’s magnetic field to align their jumps. They found that red foxes have a 73% success rate on these attacks if they come from the right direction.
Red foxes may be seen in trees, but it doesn’t happen often. The trees have to have either low branches to which the foxes can jump, or low-sloping trunks on which they can walk.
Otherwise, a red fox seen in a tree might very well be a gray fox. The two species can look very similar and live in many of the same areas.
However, the gray fox is one of the only members of their taxonomic family that can climb trees. Red foxes cannot truly climb trees. They are good at jumping, though, so they may jump into a tree. But more often than not, a red fox sticks to the ground.