September 2, 2020

Foxes Populate the Streets of Princeton; More Sightings Than Ever All Over Town

FOXY FRIEND: Princeton Animal Control Officer Jim Ferry is holding a kit fox, only a week or two old, found under a dumpster and taken to Mercer County Wildlife Center, where it was cared for until eventually released back into the wild. (Photo courtesy of Princeton Animal Control)

By Donald Gilpin

Human activity in town may have diminished during the past six months of the pandemic, but foxes have become a common sight in Princeton.

Animal Control Officer Jim Ferry has located several fox dens all across town, in the rural parts near Quaker Road and Stuart Road, and closer to downtown near Springdale Golf Course.

“I have had many reports of foxes looking for food on Nassau Street, Palmer Square, and throughout the University,” said Ferry. “Foxes are territorial. No population estimate, but they are living in every part of town.”

He emphasized that healthy foxes pose virtually no danger to humans. Foxes and any other animal showing signs of rabies  — inability to walk, falling over or walking in circles, making a continuous noise, biting at inanimate objects, appearing overly friendly or aggressive, experiencing seizures or other neurological issues — should be reported right away to Princeton Animal Control at (609) 924-2728.

Ferry said that he had captured several foxes who were sick or injured, taking them to the Mercer County Wildlife Center for care, but no rabies have been found in Princeton foxes.

Most of Ferry’s calls are just sightings, which have increased significantly over the past three years. He noted that these “urban” foxes have grown used to human activity and will come into populated areas looking for food, but will usually keep a safe distance.

“They are opportunistic hunters, feeding on mice, rabbits, birds, and squirrels,” Ferry said, “but will score an easy meal such as trash or cat food left out.” Ferry urged residents to make sure they are not unintentionally feeding wildlife, making sure that trash is secure and that cats are fed outside only during the daytime. “Foxes are most active between dusk and dawn, however will be active during the day if they know they can find food,” he added.

There have been no reported fox attacks on pets or humans, Ferry said, and most fox complaints are sightings from residents who have never seen a fox before. “Or foxes will lounge in backyards like they own the place,” Ferry said. “Banging pots and pans together works well for scaring foxes out of yards, from a safe distance of course.”

Foxes, except for raising their young, are solitary animals, not pack animals like wolves, Ferry explained. “Siblings will stick together for about the first year of life until they eventually spread out and establish their own territories,” he said.

Ferry tells of an encounter last year with a fox kit. “I received a complaint of strange noises from a dumpster, and I found an infant fox kit, maybe a week or two old, under the dumpster vocalizing.”  Since the kit was not injured, but obviously separated from its mother, Ferry set up trail cameras and left the kit for 24 hours to see if the mother would return. 

When there was no sign of the mother, Ferry collected the kit and transported it to Mercer County Wildlife Center, where it was raised to a young adult then released. “It’s important to determine if wildlife is truly orphaned,” Ferry said. “Residents are encouraged to reach out to Animal Control to assess. We work closely with the Wildlife Center to determine the best course of action.”

Warning against interacting with the growing fox population, Ferry emphasized, “It’s important to understand, these are wild animals. It is illegal to feed wildlife (except bird feeders), and you are doing more harm than good, especially if the animal loses its ability or will to hunt.”

He added, “Foxes are critical to our ecosystem. They hunt rodents and other small animals but pose very little danger to our pets and children.”