Island Beach State Park is one of the last significant remnants of a barrier island ecosystem that once existed along most of the New Jersey coastline. In fact, it is one of the few remaining undeveloped barrier beaches along the north Atlantic coast.
Island Beach State Park is about 3,000 acres along a 10-mile stretch of coastal dunes. It is situated between the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay. This barrier island ecosystem consists of primary dunes, beaches, dense thickets of brush and trees, freshwater wetlands, maritime forest and tidal marshes. There are over 400 plant species. This ecosystem is utilized by a wide diversity of birds including ospreys, peregrine falcons, wading birds, shore birds and songbirds. Island Beach State Park is also the home of a red fox population.
The red fox population at Island Beach State Park in New Jersey appears quite healthy and prosperous. This past winter of 2015 appears to have a particularly high population of foxes present. In one drive through at least 8 to 10 foxes were observed over a period of four hours. Since Barnegat Bay has been frozen for several weeks this winter, some migration of the foxes is suspected to the park via the frozen bay.
Foxes are generally nocturnal and like to hunt at night. However, if they live in a place where they do feel safe, like Island Beach State Park, they may also hunt in the daytime. One fox was observed running across the road with a bird in its mouth. It quickly disappeared into the thickets to either stash its catch or eat it.
It is obvious that the foxes of Island Beach are somewhat unafraid of humans since they will approach you waiting to see if you will feed them. However, it is strictly forbidden to feed them. There is plenty of natural food in the park for their needs. Feeding them is detrimental to them. One fox was observed walking around with a broken leg. This injury could have resulted by being struck from a vehicle.
Red foxes are successful animals in the wild. They live throughout the continental United States and also in Europe, Asia and North Africa. They can be found in a variety of habitats including forest areas, grasslands, deserts, mountains, and coastal areas.
Living in the wild is a harsh life. The life span of a red fox is three to five years in the wild as opposed to red foxes that live in captivity can live up to 10 to 12 years.
Red foxes are the size of a medium sized dog. They are naturally lean, but do not appear that way when seen in the winter with their rather bulky coat.
Foxes have excellent hearing and can hear low frequency sounds and rodents digging underground.
Red foxes also have great eyesight. They have vertically-split pupils like a cat that would be advantageous when hunting at night.
Foxes being omnivores have a very diverse diet of animals and plant material. Plant material would include fruits, berries, acorns, grasses, sedges and tubers. Their animal diet consists of small mammals (mice, rabbits, voles), insects and grubs, birds, and if they live near the ocean they will also consume mollusks, crabs and fish.
Although foxes typically hunt or forage alone, they are social animals that live in packs. Packs can consist of older siblings, pups, nannies (non breeding females) and mates.
Their breeding season is in the winter when they will court and mate. The female fox is referred to as a ‘vixen’ and the male as a ‘dog’. The dog fox will support the vixen by bringing food to the family in early spring. A vixen can produce a litter of 2 to 12 pups. Both parents care for their young through the summer after which they are out on their own.
Vixens can also be assisted in rearing the cubs by non-breeding females or a female cub from a previous litter.
Fighting and posturing of red foxes can either be the result of aggressive and dominant behavior or by fearful or submissive behavior. When male foxes are courting females, the male will turn its’ ears outwardly and raise it’s tail in a horizontal position.
When a fox is afraid or expressing submission to a dominant animal, foxes will arch their backs while crouching their legs and curving their bodies. Their ears are pointed backwards and their tails are lashing back and forth.
Playful individuals will perk their ears and rise on their hind legs.
When red foxes move into an assertive attack, the foxes approach each other directly instead of sideways. They will stand on each other’s upper bodies with their forelegs using open-mouthed threats.
These fights typically occur among juveniles or adults of the same sex. These fights tend to be very short-lived.
It is no wonder why the red fox has a reputation of being cunning and smart. They are quite resourceful with their ability to find food and appropriate habitats, like Island Beach State Park, to achieve their livelihood. They have a social structure that is not only interesting to observe but is quite successful.
The preservation and management of habitats, particularly unique ecosystems like Island Beach State Park, is a treasure that must be protected, respected, and cherished.