This more distant relative of red and swift foxes is primarily found in the eastern third of Kansas but has extended its range westward into the central part of the state where fire suppression has allowed woody cover to become established. Sometimes considered a representative of the deciduous forest, the gray fox ( Urocyon cinereoargenteus), like the red, prefers brushy “edge” habitat created by a mixture of woods and fields. Typically, as woods become more prevalent than fields, the gray fox outcompetes the red for habitat, whereas reds typically outcompete grays where fields are more prevalent. In Kansas, gray foxes are more sparsely populated than reds and may average two to four per square mile within their range.
The gray fox species name, cinereoargenteus, is Latin for “grayish silver,” describing its predominant, salt-and-pepper coloration. With a black dorsal stripe and white underparts turning to orange laterally and up to the ears, the gray fox is the most colorful Kansas furbearer. It is slightly shorter and stockier than the red fox, but the 10- to 15-pound average weights of the two are the same.
The gray fox is extremely quick and agile like the red, and is recognized by many furharvesters as the more aggressive and less wary of the two. Gray foxes are unique among Kansas canids in that they are excellent tree climbers, a trait hat allows them to escape coyotes or other potential predators, survey an area for food, rest in safety, or sometimes even to secure a den in a hollow tree. Gray foxes also use ground dens abandoned by other animals, or various other holes or crevices in or under rocky outcroppings, wood or brush piles, logs, or stumps. Dens are used year-round, but are most important for whelping. An average of three to five young are born in April or May, and these remain in the den until about six weeks of age. After that they begin to leave the den and forage with their parents. Although small mammals including rabbits and various species of rodents constitute major food items, gray foxes feed more heavily on plant matter than coyotes or red foxes and are considered more omnivorous than the other canids. Where available, corn, apples, wild fruits, and nuts make up major dietary components.
Although predation by other animals is not usually an important mortality factor for gray fox populations, disease can be. Canine distemper is common in our Kansas raccoon population, and it is probably a major mortality factor for gray foxes. Unlike coyotes and red foxes, gray foxes have a high level of resistance to sarcoptic mange.
Due to limited range and sparse distribution in Kansas, gray foxes have been of little importance in terms of annual fur harvest. Up to several hundred may be harvested during some years. Most of these are trapped, but a few are also taken by hunters. Gray fox fur is shorter and more coarse than that of the red fox, and the pelts are not as valuable. However, there is some demand for gray fox pelts by taxidermists or those wishing for a display fur.