While out hiking on San Juan Island, especially if you are in the American Camp prairie or Cattle Point, make sure to keep an eye out Red Foxes darting through the grass. Red foxes were introduced to the islands intermittently throughout the twentieth century, presumably to hunt another non-native species whose populations had grown out of control as a result of domesticated animals being released into the wild; the European Rabbit. Although they are called “red,” the San Juan Island foxes can be orange, silver, black, or multi-colored. Black foxes are rare in most parts of the world, but because of a genetic anomaly they are quite common on San Juan Island. The way to identify this species is by the white tip on its bushy tail, and by their black “stockings,” white undersides, and black-tipped ears.
Foxes are a small member of the dog family Canidae and look similar to dogs, but can have a cat-like demeanor. They can weigh anywhere from 10-14 lbs., but appear much larger due to their bushy coat. Unlike most dog species, they prefer open habitats and are not strictly nocturnal. Foxes are omnivores, feasting on insects, birds, snakes, nuts, berries and other fruits. The local foxes’ favorite food, however, are the Townsend’s vole. The San Juan Island foxes can often be spotted creeping low to the ground and then pouncing on their prey with their forefeet, which is extremely entertaining to watch.
Because the Red Foxes that live on San Juan Island are relatively accustomed to the presence of humans, they have made headlines for causing traffic hazards. Sometimes tourists feed the foxes, which is illegal and dangerous to both humans and the animals, but even simply stopping on the road to American Camp to observe the animals can cause a traffic hazard. There is a blind corner leading to the park, so visitors should take precautions to pull completely off the road while viewing wildlife. Generally an animal creating hazardous conditions in a protected park would be moved, but the one in the above-referenced story was spotted near two kits, indicating a den.