Although they are different species, it can sometimes to be difficult identifying whether the canid (member of the dog family) you see in your back yard is a fox or a coyote. There are also different species of foxes (such as the red fox and the grey fox), but for today we will focus on a comparison of red fox and their cousin the coyote.
There are some subtle differences that can help you identify whether the creature scouting for prey by your bird feeders is a red fox or a coyote. Let’s start with a basic list comparing the two.
- Size: An average adult red fox measures 14-20 inches high at the shoulder, and 18-35 inches length, around the same size as a medium-sized dog. Tails measure between 11.8 and 21.9 inches long. It’s weight ranges from 5-31 pounds, with vixens (females) weighing 15-20% less than males. Depending on the subspecies of coyotes, the average adult male ranges from 39-53 inches in length, and has a tail of 16 inches. Coyote weigh between 18-44 lbs., with the females ranging from 15-40 lbs.
- Habits: Foxes are social creatures that live in packs. They hunt at night and sleep during the day. Coyotes tend to be solitary creatures. They mark their territory with urine, a fact that helps keep fox away. They will form packs to hunt larger animal like deer. Like foxes, coyote are nocturnal. They hunt at night and sleep during the day.
- Life Span: Red foxes live about 2-5 years in the wild. Coyote live between 10-14 years in the wild.
- Habitat: Coyotes live in North and Central America and roam plains, forests, mountains, and deserts. Some have now adapted to city life, as humans take over their habitats. Red foxes can be found around the world in diverse environments including forests, grasslands, mountains, and deserts. they too have learned to adapt to areas near humans. Basically, their habitats overlap, however they try to avoid each others territories.
- Physical Appearance: Despite their name, Red Foxes can be red, grey, black, and even white (albino) although red is the most common color. They also have black legs, black tipped ears, and a white tipped tail. Their faces look very dog-like. Coyotes coloring changes somewhat depending on their geographical location, but they are generally light grey and red, interspersed with black and white. When compared to a wolf, coyotes are smaller with longer ears and a thinner face.
- Diet: Foxes are omnivores. They eat everything including: small mammals (mice, rabbits, squirrels, etc.), birds, reptiles, frogs, eggs, insects, worms, fish, crabs, mollusks, berries, fungi, vegetables, seeds, and carrion killed by other animals. Coyotes will also eat almost anything, including rabbits, rodents, fish, frogs, deer, insects, snakes, fruit, grass, carrion, and even the occasional fox.
- Predators: Eagles and coyotes love to eat young foxes. Adult foxes need to watch out for bears, wolves, and mountain lions who also will snack on a coyote when they can. Humans are also a risk for both of these animals.
- Speed: Foxes can run up to 45 miles per hour. Coyote can reach 43 miles per hour.
Interesting Facts about Foxes
- A group of foxes is called a skulk or a leash.
- A male is called a dog fox, while a female is called a vixen. A young fox is called a pup.
- They have whiskers on their faces and legs to help them navigate.
- Red fox are not as vocal as dogs or coyotes, but they do make sounds. A fox will make a series of barks, and a scream-like variation of a howl.
- Although like to live in packs, they prefer to hunt alone.
- They dig underground dens where they can protect their young from predators.
- Their pupils are vertical which helps them see at night. (This is similar to a cat)
- They have excellent hearing.
- Their musky smell comes from anal glands at the base of their tails.
- In captivity, a fox can live between 10-12 years.
- Foxes can jump high fences and swim well.
Interesting Facts about Coyote
- A group of coyote is called a band.
- A male coyote is called a boar. A female coyote is called a bitch. A young coyote is called a pup.
- Dogs run with their tails up. Coyotes run with their tails down.
- Coyote are very vocal animals. This includes making noises at night to keep track of their pack members. They growl, huff, bark, whine, howl, and yelp.
- In captivity, coyote can live up to 20 years.
- Coyote are excellent swimmers.
- Coyotes are monogamous–they mate for life.
- They have a great sense of smell. (Suggesting they can easily capture the scent of those musky foxes.)
- They usually take over an abandoned den rather than build their own.
- Coyote will hunt solo, or in pairs, and sometimes even in packs for larger game like deer.
The similarities between these two animals lies in the fact that they are both dog-like canids. They can have similar coloring. They thrive in similar habitats and eat similar foods. However, this does not make them friends. Foxes will go out of the way to avoid coyote territory, if they can.
Fox vs. Coyote: Who Will Win?
It’s really not a fair fight at all. Foxes may be able to run a little faster, and hear a coyote coming with their incredible ears. However, coyote have other advantages, including their sense of smell, their ability to stalk their prey, and their willingness to team up with a partner if need be. The truth is, coyote will hunt fox, especially if a fox wanders into their clearly marked territory. Foxes are part of a coyotes diet. A fox will only eat coyote if they were to stumble upon the remnants of someone else’s meal. Coyotes will almost always win this battle, unless the fox manages to get away quickly.
Hopefully this helps clear up any confusion about who might be wandering through your property in search of prey. While a first glance may make it difficult to discern, there are differences to look out for, especially in coloring and size. Remember, though, humans moved into their habitats and territories, not the other way around.