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When foxes are spotted in a neighborhood, residents may wonder if the animal poses any danger to them or their dogs and cats or if they have rabies because they’re out in the daytime. However, experts say seeing foxes out during the day doesn’t necessarily indicate rabies.

Tod the fox is currently recuperating from mange at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown. Photo from Sweetbriar

“Generally, foxes are most active at night or during twilight, however they can be active at other times of day when food demands are higher such as needing to conduct additional foraging to feed young,” according to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation officials. “During the winter months, foxes may be more inclined to hunt during the day, so a sighting in daylight hours is often not an indication of a sick animal.”

The DEC added that foxes should be viewed at a distance while they are searching for their necessities.

“If foxes are being sighted near residential homes it is probably because some resource need is being met, i.e., shelter, such as under decks or sheds, access to food, where rodents or other natural forage are located.” 

Janine Bendicksen, curator and director of wildlife rehabilitation for Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown, said sometimes a person may see a fox circling. This is a result of people who feed them, which is not a good idea as they begin to depend on humans for food. Because of this dependency, when a fox sees a person, they begin circling in anticipation of being fed.

“The fox is definitely more afraid of you than you are of it,” she said. “Foxes have what they love to eat. They love to eat mice. They love moles, rats, and won’t necessarily go after your cat or dog. Could they? Absolutely. But chances are they’re going to be more afraid of the dog than it is of them.”

While people don’t have to worry about their dogs and cats if foxes are spotted, they do have to keep an eye on their chickens. Bendicksen said people who find that foxes get into their chicken cages need to house the birds in an enclosure that is completely fox proof because the animal can get to the chicken easily if there are any substantially sized holes.

Tod the fox was found outside someone’s back door. Photo from Sweetbriar

Fox population

Bendicksen said there hasn’t been an uptick in the fox population necessarily, but with more people at home during the pandemic, she believes more residents have noticed them than they did in the past. Even the number of calls they have received about injured wildlife, in general, have increased over the last couple of years, she said, as people are spending more time outdoors.

The fox population is a cyclical one. When it’s a good summer and they can get more than adequate amounts of food, she said, in turn, the animals have many pups.

However, this can result in overpopulation and the foxes get mites, which cause the contagious disease known as mange. The foxes can die from the disease. When another good summer comes along, the population can grow again. 

“The population does go up and down based on food and based on the disease that keeps them in check,” Bendicksen said.

Recently, the nature center saved a fox with mange when a resident found him curled up outside their front door.

“He would not have survived the winter,” the wildlife director said. “We literally got him just in the nick of time. His hair just started to fall out. His eyes were just starting to shut. He would have died of secondary infections and starvation had he not come in.”

The fox, named Tod by the staff, will now spend the winter with the nature center and be released in the spring when he is “older and wiser,” according to Bendicksen.

Injured foxes

If a person sees an injured fox, they should contact an animal rescue such as Sweetbriar (631-979-6344, www.sweetbriarnc.org).

Bendicksen said foxes are difficult to catch, and they have to be extremely sick for a person to catch them. She pointed out that people rarely see foxes hit along the road because of their speed and other skills.

“The foxes are truly super intelligent, super shy, super careful, and so to catch a sick fox, they have to be in pretty bad shape,” she said.