By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(April 6, 2023) Spring is in the air, and that means it’s mating season for foxes, so don’t be surprised to see a few running around Ocean Pines looking for a date.
According to Maryland DNR, the ideal red fox habitat includes a mix of open fields (or beaches) small woodlots and wetlands. That describes Ocean Pines to a tee.
“Foxes are also prolific in Ocean City,” Sandi Smith said, the outreach and marketing coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.
During the spring and early summer, foxes can be seen more frequently, looking for mates and hunting for food for their young. And the youngsters can be seen romping and playing like kindergarteners.
“They were here before we were and they’ve adapted to us, we need to adapt to them,” Smith said.
Some people get concerned when they see a fox in the daytime.
“They are primarily out at night but very often hunting by day, especially when they have babies. It does not mean something is wrong,” Gay Frazee said, a wildlife rehabilitator in Jamesville, Virginia.
“It is not abnormal to view foxes during the day, but caution and distance should always be applied when viewing any wildlife species,”
said, a furbearer biologist with Maryland DNR.
Their food source is not cats or kittens or dogs,” Smith said.
Smith surmised that there is not a rodent issue in Ocean City because of the fox. “They eat small rodents, grubs and seeds. They are part of our ecosystem.”
According to Maryland DNR, red foxes have an omnivorous diet, meaning that they eat both plants and animals. A typical red fox diet includes rabbits, snakes, insects, birds, mice, berries and fruits. Foxes will be out day or night, depending on when their food source is active.
During mating season, which is now through April, it’s possible to hear the call of a fox looking for a mate. The call can sound a bit like somebody is being murdered.
“It can also sound like a screaming baby,” Smith said.
Pupping starts as early as March and in the beginning of summer, adolescents can be found, some behaving badly, according to Smith.
One fox in Ocean City, known by locals as “Penny the Fox” became famous for snatching people’s shoes and taking them to her den in a sand dune on 92nd Street.
Foxes, like any other wildlife, are wild and should not be fed. That act of misplaced kindess may attract foxes to neighborhood yards, as will leaving food out for cats or dogs.
“Wild animals (especially predators) may behave defensively while feeding, which may lead to aggression towards humans once the association with food has been made,” Tabora said.
It is never a good idea to feed a fox. There is a common saying among wildlife rehabbers, “a fed fox is a dead fox.”
“By feeding them you get them used to the idea that humans have food and they will come back looking for an easy meal. They’re smart,” Frazee said.
“They are perfectly capable of feeding themselves and teaching their young to hunt,” she said.
“In addition, wild animals are adapted to eating natural foods, and providing them with human foods can result in poor nutrition and dependence,” Tabora said.
Feeding a fox will stop it from hunting for its own food, making it reliant on people. The fox could then become a nuisance, approaching other people and possibly biting someone, which could result in the fox being euthanized.
“It’s important for foxes and other wildlife to fear people. They need to stay wild,” Frazee said.
As for people fearing foxes, Smith said,“Foxes are not a threat unless rabid.”
“You can generally tell if a fox needs help. Is it acting peculiar, is it acting less fearful, limping, moving slowly?” Frazee said.
“Foxes are a rabies vector species, which does not mean they have rabies,” Frazee said.
Fox, bats, raccoons and skunks all have a higher rate of infection than other mammals.
“Sick foxes may exhibit abnormal behaviors, such as reduced caution around human activity, aggression, general unawareness, and walking in circles repeatedly,” Tabora said.
Before calling to report a fox or ask for assistance, take time to observe the fox’s behavior and look for signs.
A fox with mange can often be mistaken for a rabid one because of its sickly appearance.
Mange is extremely debilitating and results in a patchy coat or entire hair loss.
“Use common sense and when in doubt observe the situation and call a rehabber. We are always willing to have a chat and help figure out what’s going on,” Frazee said.
Anyone who suspects a fox or other animal is rabid should report it to local authorities.
Maryland DNR provides advice and resources for sick and injured animals at https://dnr.maryland. gov/wildlife/Pages/plants_wildlife/sickorinjured.aspx