The gray fox is a truly unique member of the dog family, as they are the only canine in the western hemisphere that can climb trees. The sharp, hooked claws on their feet allow them to grab on as they leap from branch to branch. This climbing ability keeps them safe from predators such as domestic dogs and coyotes, and gives them access to tree-borne food sources that comprise part of their varied diet.
No larger than a small dog, they are similar in appearance to their cousin, the red fox, but with key differences. Gray foxes have a smaller muzzle and shorter legs with rounded footprints. They also have grizzled gray fur with red patches on the neck, sides and legs; a black stripe down the back; and a black tip on the tail.
Where to find them
In Ontario, these secretive animals live in deciduous forests and marshes, with the only confirmed breeding population on Pelee Island in west Lake Erie. They spend their days in dens made in dense shrubs close to water, or in hollow trees or the abandoned burrows of other animals; emerging to hunt only at dawn or dusk, or during the night.
Gray foxes live in small groups comprised of an adult male and female, and a litter of usually three or four kits.
How they are threatened
Sadly, the gray fox is now one of the rarest mammals in Canada. They face many threats including predation, habitat encroachment, vehicle collisions and diseases such as canine distemper or rabies.
On Pelee Island in particular, habitat loss is making it harder for gray foxes to find shelter and invasive species like garlic mustard and the common reed are overtaking native plants that are important to their diet.
How you can help
One way is to start a Bring Back the Wild campaign for the Gray Fox. The donations that you and your family members collect will help the Nature Conservancy of Canada improve habitat on 1,000 acres of Pelee Island for them to hunt and make dens, and to remove the invasive plant species.