How Red Foxes Use Wild Plants

When you think of what a fox eats, you’re probably picturing rabbits, mice, or maybe a housecat (although the latter is extremely rare and they usually coexist).

Red foxes, waagoshag in Ojibwe or waagosh for singular, do love their meats from insects to rodent kind, and sometimes herps or birds. They might even lunge into a shallow lake after a fish or nab some carrion. Surprisingly, they are also enthusiastic about fruit and other plants.

Food and Medicine Allies

Red fox – Vulpes vulpes

I have seen my foxes carrying off one apple at a time. Fruits and other wild plants make up an estimated 10% to 30% of the red fox’s diet.  They even get up on their hind legs or climb trees to get at some of the fruit, such sweet tooths they are. A favorite is blackberries.

But besides apples and blackberries, they’ll eat other native plants like cherries, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, plums, and grapes. They can eat yew berries without the ill effects others may feel.

Red foxes also munch on various flowering herbs and shrubs like sweet-brier, and they’ll nibble grasses, sedges, and tubers they dig up. Hazelnuts and acorns are gobbled down too.

Their seedier dietary habits make for scat that can be confused for raccoon or bear and may only say fox because the scat is displayed on a rock or some other feature they’ve squatted over.

Some of the fox’s plant snacks may help with parasites; plant medicine is for all.

How Wild Plants Use Red Foxes?

Besides expected seed dispersal via feces, foxes benefit their plant allies by increasing the biodiversity around their dens. They till the earth, fertilize with fecal matter and scraps of dinner and thus make their favorite hangouts more suited for varied herbaceous species to grow.

This is likely why there was an article floating around circa 2019 about foxes keeping herbal gardens outside their dens. It’s sort of true. The article has disappeared, so I can’t say how true. I would imagine this diversity around the fox den really takes off immediately after they vacate and trod elsewhere for a while.

Shelter Allies

Fox dens are usually dug into bare loose dirt, without any sort of bedding, but sometimes they utilize structures like rock or woodpiles. They may take up the vacated dens of other species. On super rare occasions they may den in a tree. More commonly they may simply rest on its branches. There are likely trees and dense vegetation sheltering the den itself. They only den for about 4 months when raising a family.

When not denning they usually take shelter in thickets like brambly blackberries and heavy bush. Our many ferns and high grasses also make for great cover. Thorny rose bushes and thistles may even do.

They occasionally make a bed in odd places like a compost heap, perhaps attracted by the added warmth. The closest thing fox finds to an electric blanket? That or a dying campfire.

While I’ve seen many a fox at my compost pile, it tends to be a mushy gravy of kitchen scraps more than a bed of weeds. They aren’t checking mine out for a nap site.

Might be a fan of basic pumpkin spice

Piles of Plants

Besides digging into the earth or snow to bury caches, the fox may use leaf matter to hide surplus food.

Logs, grassy knolls, and around here rock piles certainly are well used by the fox to scan areas.

Check out these Song of the Woods Studio residents playing in the grass:

Fox Kits
These adorable red foxes will be featured in a future Wood Folk Diary!

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