The Diet of the Red Fox

My family raised a red fox kit at Crater Lake National Park and subsequently set him free when he could fend for himself. No doubt dead after all these years, the experience was not only good, it was also educational. Things were learned that came as quite a surprise. Not the least of these was regarding the diet.

Red foxes are primarily carnivores. There is a reason for the qualifier word, “primarily” and we will get to that in a bit.

The red fox is an adept hunter, and an opportunist. It will hunt mice, rats, and squirrels with an amazing cat-like ability. They often pounce on their prey, much like cats do. They are also quite intelligent and able to out think their prey. Being both smart at surprisingly agile, once a fox sets its sights on a mouse or other small rodent, it seldom misses its intended target.

Red foxes are also excellent climbers, and many squirrels haven’t survived long enough to learn that climbing a tree isn’t proof against being eaten by a fox. In fact, personal observation has been that foxes enjoy climbing, and will often do so even when there is no prey to be eaten.

A red fox won’t eat only small rodents, though. They will also eat birds and bird eggs, lizards, snakes, and occasionally insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, and grubs. Given the chance, they will also devour earthworms, which are a high protein food.

Somewhat of a surprise is that a red fox can and does capture fish in the wild, and eat them. They actually treat this as a fun activity, rather than as something to just gain sustenance. They will pounce about in water, slapping at and catching fish and crustaceans such as crayfish. Only when they become tired will they take the prey out of the water in order to eat it. As comical as it is to watch their fishing prowess, it also hones other hunting skills for the fox.

This diminutive member of the dog family also has other dietary surprises. For instance, it will eat carrion, if it finds any. At times, it will even drive much larger carnivores away from a carcass in order to consume the meat. The fox is quicker than most other meat eaters it encounters.

It would be easy to assume that, as a member of the dog family the red fox is strictly a meat eater. This would be an incorrect assumption. Red foxes are at least partly omnivorous. They are in fact fond of sweets, and won’t hesitate to eat honey or ripe berries. They will also nibble on grasses and grass seeds.

When in the home, a red fox will drink milk, eat buttered toast, and consume almost anything they can get, which is plenty since they have a talent for getting into anything and everything. In nature, they are much the same way. Opportunistic feeder is a great way of putting it, because if there is something available that is edible, they will probably eat it.

It is hard to find another predator with a more diverse diet than a red fox, except perhaps a bear. It has served foxes well, though. It means that even when relentlessly hunted, they can still repopulate in a short amount of time. In fact, the litters they have are largely based on the available food in an area, and since their diets are so varied, they can quickly gain a population as long as hunting pressure doesn’t exceed their ability to reproduce.

The diet of the red fox is just one of the interesting things about this creature.