Foxes and Coyotes

Foxes

Red foxes are 8 to 15 pounds, about the size of a large cat, and have long, bushy reddish black tails with white tips. They are the only mammals in Illinois with rusty red coats. (Gray foxes are the same size as red foxes and are native to DuPage County but are quite uncommon.)

Foxes are considered carnivores and feed on rabbits, mice, rats and birds, but they also eat fruit. They are nocturnal but also hunt in the early morning or late evening.

Red foxes prefer woodlands but often inhabit urban areas, especially ones that back up to fields or wooded lots. They use dens — usually on the sunny sides of hills or banks, along fencerows or in natural rock cavities — but only to raise their young. They may dig their own but often expand those abandoned by woodchucks, badgers or other foxes. A den may have several 8- to 15-inch-wide entrances and can be up to 75 feet long.

Red foxes are monogamous, and both parents care for their young. They mate in January and February and have a litter of four to 10 kits in March or April. The young remain in the den for about eight to 10 weeks and are on their own by late fall, although female offspring may stay with the adults to help with next year’s litter.

Seeing a fox in a backyard does not necessarily mean the animal is living there. Foxes have home ranges of 1 to 2 square miles, so most of the time they are just passing through. Observing one of these animals is a sign of ecological balance because foxes help to keep populations of smaller animals in check.

Coyotes

Coyotes are yellowish gray with bushy black-tipped tails and whitish throats and bellies. At 20 to 40 pounds they’re larger than 8- to 15-pound foxes but smaller than wolves, which can weigh between 50 and 100. Because coyotes are extremely adaptable, they can survive in many habitats, including cities. They are considered nocturnal but are commonly active during the day. Their barks and yips can carry 2 or 3 miles and make two or three animals sound like six or more. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t howl to announce a pending or successful kill.

Coyotes are vital to ecological balance because they help to keep populations of smaller animals in check. Over 90 percent of their diet is small mammals, but they will eat birds, snakes, insects, fish, fruits, and injured or sick deer.

Their breeding season begins in February and is the only time coyotes use dens, which are often in vacant fox or woodchuck burrows but can be under log or brush piles or in hollow trees or abandoned buildings. Litters are born in April and average six to seven pups. They’re fed by their mother for about a month, but after that, both parents bring food to the den. Male coyotes will continue to care for weaned young even if their partners die.

Young are self-sufficient in six to nine months but remain with their families after they leave the den. Many first-year females stay with their parents through the following summer, picking up valuable mothering skills as they help with the next litter.

Sightings of families may contribute to the idea that coyotes live and hunt as wolves do in packs, but wolf packs can contain unrelated individuals. Coyotes remain in parent-offspring units and usually hunt alone or in male-female pairs; prey in DuPage isn’t big enough to merit a group effort.

Some people believe that populations are on the rise, but there’s no supportive data. It could be that people are seeing the same coyotes more often. During the first half of the year, sightings increase as year-old males start to look for territories to call their own. Year-round, if individual coyotes become more comfortable around humans, daytime activities — and sightings — can also increase.

For videos and information on how to prevent and respond to coyote encounters, visit Living With Coyotes.

Coyote or Wolf 
Since 2000 there have only been 10 confirmed wolf sightings in Illinois, and none were in DuPage.

From a distance, it can be difficult to tell if an animal is a coyote or a wolf, but there are differences. Wolves can be twice as large as coyotes, as much as 115 pounds. (In winter, coyotes’ thick coats can make them look larger than they really are.) Wolves have large, blocky snouts; coyotes’ are smaller and pointed. Wolf ears are rounded, but a coyote’s ears are pointed and are proportionately larger than its head. The ears on 30-pound coyote can be the same size as those on an 80-pound wolf.

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