7 Places Foxes Go in the Winter (And When They Return)

red fox in winter

Foxes are silent and private creatures. So it is a rare gift to see them bounding through their natural habitat. However, fox sightings are becoming more commonplace as foxes move into urban areas.

In the winter, foxes stay within their established territory—an area between 2-5 square miles. Foxes mate in January and have their kits in early spring. Female foxes remain close to their den to care for their young during this time while male gather food, forage and scavenge to provide for their family.

Since fox sightings are becoming more frequent, you may have noticed that foxes are seen less often during winter. Don’t worry; your favorite fox family is likely not that far from where you saw it during the summer!

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Where Do Foxes Live in Winter?

Extremely adaptable, foxes live in various environments ranging from the forest, prairie, and tundra, to places inhabited by humans like farmlands and urban areas. As the fox’s natural habitat disappears, they move into urban and suburban areas to look for food.

Foxes are found on every continent except Antarctica.

There are at least 12 species, five of which live in the continental United States. Two types of foxes are most known for living in towns, cities, and other urban areas. The most common kinds of foxes you may see in your neighborhood are the Gray Fox and the Red Fox.

in Cities

Foxes love habitats with lots of variety in vegetation and prey.

That is why they are often found on the edges of different ecosystems. For example, foxes love suburban areas because it is where the forest meets the city. These edge spaces provide more diversity in food and prey. 

Foxes aren’t anything to be afraid of, however! Here’s what to do if you see a fox in your yard.

Dens

Foxes do not migrate long distances. Instead, they stay near home. To prepare for the birth of her kits, a female fox finds an enclosed shelter to inhabit or modify for her young. 

While the female fox may be a stay-at-home parent, the male is responsible for providing food for his growing family.

Other Animals Shelter

A fox may dig a den, but will likely steal shelter from other small mammals like rabbits or chipmunks.

Like other predators, foxes will conserve their energy as necessary. If the work has already been completed, why waste time digging another den?

Holes in the Ground

A fox may commandeer a den from another small mammal, or they may find a natural hole in the ground to make their den.

Rainwater runoff that creates erosion as it flows downhill often hollows out loamy soil enough to create an open-air hole in the earth, perfect for a family of foxes in winter. 

Hollowed Out Tree Stumps

Unlike the red fox, a gray fox prefers above-ground dens, such as a hollowed-out tree stump. When a tree dies, it rots from the inside out, creating a perfectly insulated home to raise young and store food.

If you come across a fallen tree, look for a hollowed-out stump nearby. You might spot a fox family!

Rock Crevices

If your environment includes mountains or other rock formations, you may find your neighborhood fox living in a rock.

To humans, this may seem like a damp and dismal location for a home, but to a fox, a cave provides shelter from the elements and insulation from extreme temperatures.

Rock crevices are a common place to find foxes during the day.

in the Snow

If foxes do not have young ones to care for, they can sleep outside in the snow. Their thick fur keeps their skin warm and dry.

In addition, snow built up around and over the fox adds insulation and keeps the fox warm. 

Foxes are well suited to winter climates in their range; they prepare for winter by eating excess food and storing fat deposits on their body.

As a result, foxes are very comfortable in the snow!

Most Common Foxes You May Find in the Winter

Red Fox

The red fox has a pointed face, thick fur, and a long bushy tail. They are yellow-orange with black highlights around the nose, ears, and mouth.

Their long tail is one-third the length of their body. The red fox occurs throughout the United States and Canada.

Gray Fox

gray fox in snow

The gray fox, unsurprisingly, is gray with a black band around the muzzle and black on the end of its tail.

They also have a long bushy tail that is also one-third the length of their whole body. Gray foxes are less common in North America than the red fox but extend west to the Rocky Mountains.

Kit Fox

Wild Kit Fox

A third type of fox is less common than the gray fox and the red fox in the United States but still is worth mentioning. The kit fox, also known as the swift fox, is found in desert and Great Plains. It prefers dry areas and feels the safest in dense brush.

Since this fox lives in a climate without a harsh winter, it’s unlikely that kit foxes will become as much of a nuisance for property owners.

However, conditions such as drought and extreme cold and heat could bring these animals closer to areas inhabited by humans. 

Foxes are nocturnal, meaning they are most often active at night. In the winter, they are occupied for two-hour stretches before resting again.

How Do Foxes Survive During Cold Weather and Winter?

Foxes have fur that grows longer and thicker in the winter to keep the animal warm. There are many different species of foxes. One of these, the Artic Fox, can survive in some of the harshest winter terrains on earth.

Where ever a species of fox lives, you can bet that they are well adapted to the climate in that area. Foxes that live in environments with cold and harsh winters survive by keeping their young in underground burrows and dens. 

The foxes you see in your area likely live within a five-mile radius year round. Foxes are excellently adapted for winter weather. 

How do Foxes Adapt for Winter?

Young red fox in a snow covered wood winter

Foxes have many adaptations that allow them to survive during long winters.

First, foxes have a thick, layered coat that keeps them warm and dry.

Second, foxes store fat on their bodies during the lush summer months.

Third, eating more when food is plentiful help the foxes store extra fat on their bodies that can help sustain them through the winter.

Finally, these same fat deposits work as additional insulation from biting wind and cold. 

Male and female pairs will cache small amounts of food in a den when preparing for a litter of kits.

Foxes may bed down during extreme winter storms, but when the weather is calm, a fox continues to hunt for food during the winter. Fox diets change to reflect foods more readily available in winter. 

Fox coats, made of three layers, keep them warm in the winter. If it weren’t for the need to keep kits warm and to store food, adult foxes wouldn’t need a den to survive. Instead, foxes curl up into a ball and sleep in the snow! 

Adult foxes are well adapted to winter climates. So if you see a fox out in the snow in the winter, don’t worry. That fox is enjoying its natural habitat, likely searching for a small rodent to eat.

Adult Foxes Sleep in the Snow

Adult foxes do not need a den in winter to survive. According to Haverford College adult, foxes do not need a den to survive the winter unless they have young. Instead, they are perfectly content to curl up in the snow, protected by a coat of fur made up of three layers.

The first layer of fur is the soft underfur required for insulation from winter’s harsh wind and temperatures.

The second layer is wiry guard hairs which are water resistant and protect the fox’s skin from getting wet.

Finally, the third layer is made of intermediate hairs that keep the fox warm and dry.

Most interestingly, foxes have hair growing from the bottom of their feet, keeping their feet warm and protected when they contact freezing snow and ice. These furry feet also help the fox stay quiet when stalking prey or fleeing a predator.

What Foxes Do During the Winter Months

Foxes are nocturnal, which means they are most active at night.

Their winter activity splits into three categories; resting, foraging, and traveling.

fox in winter snow

They Rest!

Foxes take more naps in the winter! Foxes are nocturnal and are active for about seven hours per day. Most often, these hours fall at dawn and dusk. 

The amount of time a fox is active does not change with the season. However, foxes are playful for more extended periods in the summer, about four to five-hour stretches. In the winter, foxes are active for about two hours before resting again. 

What’s a typical day like for a fox? Find out where foxes live and go during the day.

Foxes Search for Food

Foxes are scavengers and foragers.

A Fox’s diet will change during the winter. They eat many easily accessible fruits and insects during the lush summer months.

During the stark winter, they rely more on nuts, seeds, and small mammals. Rabbits, mice, and birds have fallen prey to a fox during winter. 

Some foxes scavenge for carrion, dead animals, during the winter.

For example, some species of arctic fox eat the dead carcasses of moose that have fallen prey to a giant predator, illness, or hunger. Scavenging for carrion happens in regions with the harshest winter at the northernmost edges of a fox’s habitat. 

Young Foxes Leave Home

A fox family with a new litter of kits will stay together through spring, summer, and fall. Then, when it is time for the mother fox to mate again in the winter, her eight-month-old young leave their home to venture out into the world.

Sometimes the young female foxes will stay near their birthplace to act as a nanny to the new litter of kits.

Other females leave to search for their mates and start their own families. Male young will leave their birthplace for good at this time and have been known to travel long distances to find the proper territory, home, and mate.

Foxes Mate in Winter

Foxes mate in early winter and have kits, baby foxes, in late winter or early spring. When foxes mate, they make loud noises that may sound like a crying human infant.

Their screeching can wake up whole urban neighborhoods during this period. If you see a lone fox in the winter, it may be a single male roaming the wilderness looking for a female to breed. 

Foxes have been known to mate for life and will have multiple litters throughout their partnership. Some evidence suggests that some male foxes will not mate again after the death of their female mate. Females, however, will mate again to keep producing litters of babies. 

For a few days before and after the birth of the kits, the male fox brings food to the den while the mother stays nearby. Then, once the kits are a few days old, the mother fox leaves the den to hunt and returns to nurse, clean, and care for her babies.

Do foxes store food for the winter?

Yes! According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, foxes store some food, like nuts, seeds, and fruits. They find this food during the summer months and store it in underground hiding places that they retrieve during active winter moments.

This underground hiding place is called a cache. Foxes as young as six weeks old have been seen mimicking their parent’s behavior in saving and storing food. 

Generally, a fox saves food by digging small holes and pushing pieces of food into it before covering it with dirt and forest debris. They may store a bunch of food in one large cache or store things individually.

Each method has pros and cons that contribute to the fox’s success in surviving the winter.

For example, when a fox prepares to have a litter of kits during the winter, she may store food underground inside her den.

Let the foxes form their own caches. Don’t allow your hen house to become a fox’s winter pantry! Find out when foxes go after chickens and how to keep them safe.

Keeping Foxes off Your Property During Winter

Foxes that scavenge during the winter may stumble upon delicious human garbage or an unsuspecting domesticated farm animal. In many ways, you can discourage foxes from scavenging and hunting on your property.

 Reduce the risk of foxes making a home on your property by:

  • Keeping a dog
  • Installing a motion-detecting light or alarm
  • Eliminating potential den locations
  • Investing in a fence
  • Keeping human, livestock, and pet food safely stored
  • Staying close to home

Keep a Dog

Having a dog that stays outside is an excellent fox deterrent. Foxes are quick but small compared to large dog breeds. Just having a dog’s smell around your property may act as an adequate deterrent against a fox.

According to the University of California, the following dog breeds make excellent livestock protection agents:

  • The Great Pyrenees
  • Anatolian Shepherd
  • Maremma
  • Akbash

Install A Motion-Detecting Light or Alarm

Foxes and other predators can be scared by sudden changes in their environment. To discourage foxes from scavenging and hunting on your property, consider purchasing the Redeo Solar Nocturnal Predator Control Light. This light emits flashing LED lights that deter foxes and other unwanted predators that may wander where they don’t belong. 

Motion sensing alarms are another great option. The Gaurdline 500-foot Range Wireless Driveway Alarm can be installed on or near outbuildings that you want to deter a fox from inhabiting. This option comes with three different alarms that could protect three other areas of your property.

For more information about a fox’s nighttime patterns, learn what time foxes come out at night.

Eliminating Potential Den Locations

Potential den locations may attract foxes to your property. If you want to keep foxes off of your property, consider filling in abandoned animal dens and removing dead stumps and underbrush from your property.

In addition, foxes have been known to burrow and den under unattended tool sheds and other auxiliary buildings. 

To stop a fox from living on your property, fill in any holes and install fencing around the foundation of buildings. Ensure your fence is dug one to two feet underground so that a determined fox cannot dig under it.

Foxes love to hide and store food in the dense underbrush along the edges of property and roadways. You can deter a fox from spending time on your property by cutting back these natural areas and encouraging foxes to move to a different location.

You can also utilize smells that foxes dislike along the edge of your property to detract them!

Install in a Fence

Livestock and pets are best protected from foxes by having a sturdy and deep fence around their enclosure.

Foxes are tiny and can dig and squeeze into small spaces when needed. 

Consider converting a traditional fence into an electric fence with the Briidea 2-mile Electric Fence Energizer. Electric fences provide an added layer of protection against foxes and other predators.

Store Food Safley

Keeping human, livestock, and pet food safely stored. Protect all potential food sources, such as dog food, animal feed, bird feeders, compost piles, and food scraps.

Moving these items into a safe building where foxes cannot reach is best if you discover a problem.  

When food is scarce during the winter, a fox may expand their range, going further and further away from its den to search for food. This travel can contribute to fox sightings in new locations during the winter.

You can also identify foxes by the sounds they make. Check out our guide on the 7 sounds and noises foxes make and how to identify them.

Stay Close to Home

Most of the time, humans are an excellent deterrent to foxes; you may not see them unless you leave your property unattended for longer than 24 hours. If you are going on vacation, consider enlisting the help of a house sitter to keep a human presence around while you are away. 

Foxes are wild animals that should be given a respectful amount of space. If you are struggling with foxes on your property, consider contacting a professional.

You can visit our pest control locator page to find a professional near you. In addition, watch out for 9 things that attract foxes to your yard!

How Can I See a Fox at night?

If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the fox in your neighborhood, you will need to enhance your vision with a pair of night-vision goggles for real time viewing!

Can’t stay up late enough to see a fox? Consider placing the Lamgool Solar Powered Trail Camera on your property to catch them during their most active hours. 

You can learn more about why foxes come out at night here if you’d like.

That’s All for Now!

Foxes may seem like small cute creators bounding through your yard, but they can become a huge pest to an unsuspecting homeowner.

They can make dens on your property, steal food from your garbage can and present a danger to household pets and livestock.

Most of the time, no matter the season, foxes will give human spaces plenty of room. But if food and shelter are scarce, they may end up shacking up in your tool shed! 

 Reduce foxes making a home on your property by:

  • Keeping a dog
  • Installing a motion-detecting light or alarm
  • Eliminating potential den locations
  • Investing in a fence
  • Keeping human, livestock, and pet food safely stored
  • Staying close to home

Following these simple steps will keep foxes from pestering your property so that you can continue to enjoy observing them from a safe distance.

References

Butler, A. R., Bly, K. L., Harris, H., Inman, R. M., Moehrenschlager, A., Schwalm, D., & Jachowski, D. S. (2019). Winter movement behavior by swift foxes (Vulpes velox) at the northern edge of their range. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 97(10), 922-930.

Doncaster, C. P., & Macdonald, D. W. (1997). Activity patterns and interactions of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) in Oxford city. Journal of Zoology, 241(1), 73-87.

Keuling, O., Greiser, G., Grauer, A., Strauß, E., Bartel-Steinbach, M., Klein, R., … & Winter, A. (2011). The German wildlife information system (WILD): population densities and den use of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) and badgers (Meles meles) during 2003–2007 in Germany. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 57(1), 95-105.

Needham, R., Odden, M., Lundstadsveen, S.K. et al. Seasonal diets of red foxes in a boreal forest with a dense population of moose: the importance of winter scavenging. Acta Theriol 59, 391–398 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13364-014-0188-7

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