Part of the reason the red fox is so successful is due to its adaptability to its habitat. They can survive from altitudes of over 8,000 feet (nearly 3,000 meters) down to sea level. They can also withstand long harsh winters as well as hot arid summers.
The red fox does have an ideal habitat, however. It likes to have plenty of ground cover, like that afforded by forests, especially those of fir and pine. The cover is more than just shelter; it also means that there is a better chance that the small rodents, berries, and birds that make up the bulk of its diet are going to be about. In the confines of the forest, these small creatures also don’t prove to be much of a problem for the agile fox to catch.
This can be extremely important since a vixen can sometimes have large litters, and it won’t be long before the food the kits are eating is greatly supplemented by little animals the mother catches. Small numbers of prey animals could mean starvation for the kits.
The forests also provide shelter against predators. Red foxes have great climbing ability as well as other talents, so a forest is an ideal habitat. They are amazingly quick and intelligent, but they aren’t especially fast, and bears, cougars, wolverines, and other animals that prey on them can generally outrun a fox. A forest provides the fox with cover against these animals, giving the red fox a slight survival edge.
Though red foxes can endure high heat and arid conditions, they still must have access to water. In mountainous areas, this is seldom a problem as there are generally numerous streams and small lakes. These also furnish it with other foods such as fish and crustaceans. However, ever the opportunist, foxes have been known to live in exceptionally dry areas and will drink from the most temporary of water supplies, such as the dew that can be collected by leaves.
It isn’t uncommon for a red fox to travel miles to the nearest water. This can create a special hardship for a nursing vixen, though, and their preference is to have water available within an easy distance from the den. This is important, too, as males and females are social animals and share parenting duties. If one or the other must travel great distances to get to water, it puts an additional burden on the mate that remains with the kits.
Red foxes also require a habitat that allows for den sites. They are quite capable of digging a den, but prefer something that adds additional safety, such as tree roots, rocks, or small caves with tiny entrances. Often, they will take over an abandoned badger den or similar, since the badger also prefers making its den in more secure locations.
It may sound like the areas red foxes can live in are limited, but they really aren’t. There is simply a difference in preferred habitat and adequate habitat. Foxes can quickly populate good habitat areas, though they remain elusive animals that are not often seen, even when the population is high. It is a special treat to encounter foxes in the wild. They are timid, but not tremendously afraid of man, if they perceive no threat and haven’t been under hunting pressure.
The Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest hold a sizable population of red foxes. All the most favorable habitat preferences are found in this location. There are heavy forests, plenty of game and other food, abundant water, and places to make dens. In fact, the fox population at Crater Lake National Park is such that naturalists often just estimate the numbers.
This sturdy little animal has quite a range of habitats it can survive in. Yet, it gives us one more reason to venture into the woods; the chance to see a glimpse of a red fox in the wild.
Crater Lake National Park
Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife