Cities are sometimes described as concrete jungles, but that doesn’t dissuade woodland critters from occasionally taking up residence in downtown Fresno.
A gray fox is making itself at home in the industrial area west of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, including the rear parking lot of The Fresno Bee, just over a block from where construction crews for California’s high-speed rail project are busy building a new Tuolumne Street bridge.
The fox, which is about the size of a small dog, has been spotted numerous times in the late afternoon and evening hours at The Bee over the past several weeks, even finding a perch atop the wall around an employee patio at the rear of the building.
“Foxes are the most common urban wildlife in Fresno,” said Dan Fidler, a wildlife biologist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Fresno. “There is a healthy population of both gray and red foxes here. We see them regularly.”
Gray foxes are native to the central San Joaquin Valley and California and are found throughout the U.S. Several subspecies of their biological cousin, the red fox, are also in California, including a rare type in the Sierra Nevada.
But on the Valley floor, red foxes are considered an invasive species, Fidler said. “People do see the occasional kit fox, too,” Fidler said of the endangered San Joaquin kit fox, adding that he personally has not encountered a kit fox in his five years of working as a biologist in the Fresno area.
Foxes are the most common urban wildlife in Fresno. There is a healthy population of both gray and red foxes here.
Dan Fidler, wildlife biologist for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife
Gray foxes typically weigh between 7 and 14 pounds, and dine on rats and mice, insects, fruit, nuts, grains, and food garbage or pet food if it’s left in the open where they can get to it. “They really have found a niche living among people,” Fidler said. “The native Americans used to tame foxes.”
It’s impossible to know whether this fox – first noticed in mid-March – surfaced as a result of possible disruption of its home by high-speed rail construction because individual foxes have sizable ranges for their size, the biologist added. A female fox can forage over as much as a square mile or more, while the range of a male fox can be double that.
“It’s very possible for one to be disrupted by construction or some other change to its habitat,” Fidler said. But it’s also possible that this individual could be a young male who has been been driven off from its mother by a mature male during mating season – a time that comes around in the early spring. Fidler said he couldn’t tell from a photo whether this particular fox is male or female.
That range could put this fox’s home as far north as Belmont Avenue, south to Church Avenue, west to Chandler Executive Airport, or even farther afield if it’s a male. “There’s a lot of open area west of Highway 99,” Fidler said.
Foxes are adaptable when construction intrudes on their area. Fidler recalled a population of red foxes that cavorted on vacant land near Fresno Street and Friant Road in northeast Fresno when work began on a commercial shopping center a couple of years ago.
“We got calls from neighbors who were worried about the foxes getting squished,” he said. “But what happened is as the construction moved ahead, the foxes just scooted over. When it got to the point where the block no longer suited them as habitat, they just moved on to the next block.”
And they can climb, “almost as good as raccoons and squirrels,” Fidler said, to find their way up fences, trees and even onto rooftops.
As soft and cuddly as foxes may appear, however, “they are wild animals, even though they have adapted their behaviors around people,” Fidler said. “Trying to handle one, like you would with a dog or cat, or harassing it could provoke a response that will get you bitten.” And because foxes are wild, there is the potential for disease from a bite.
At The Bee, the fox may have been attracted by cat kibble left out for strays near a rear loading dock. The best way to prevent a possible negative encounter between people and fox “is to stop feeding the cats,” Fidler said. Cat food can attract rodents upon which a fox could feed, or in a pinch the fox could munch the kibble itself. Far less likely, he added, is that the fox would take on a cat as prey.