Friday, January 05, 2018

Fox Foto Friday - Island Fox School Project

An island fox, its habitat, diet, behavior and life story.

This wonderful school project was created by a 3rd grade student at Opal Robinson Elementary School in Manhattan Beach.

FIF school presentations will be available on a limited basis beginning in March 2018. 

Teachers - island foxes are a real world entry into math, history, science and ecology. Check out island fox school activities K-12. 

Monday, January 01, 2018

Friends of the Island Fox's "12 Days of Winter"

Happy New Year 2018!
On the 12th Day of Winter the Islands gave to me...

Find out more about island foxes and their

A huge Thank You to Douglas E. Welch for providing graphic design and to the photographers that contributed to this project: Michael E. Lawshe, Keri Dearborn, Douglas E. Welch, Peter Pendergest, Catherine Schwemm, and Mike Watling. A special Thank You to Cathy Van Slyke, who's photo of an island fox in a fig tree provided the inspiration.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Fox Foto Friday - Island Foxes Staying Warm

On a December trip to Santa Cruz Island, Nancy Beach from North Carolina captured this image of an island fox snuggling in for a nap.

"I was surprised the foxes were so easy to spot - our eastern red foxes are nocturnal, so I've only seen maybe a half dozen in my entire life," said Nancy. She saw numerous island foxes and remarked, "Beautiful animals!"

Island foxes stay warm against the winter chill by curling up in a ball. They tuck their legs under their body and use their fluffy tail to cover their face. While island fox fur is not as thick as foxes that live in snowy climates, it still insulates these tiny hunters from the cold.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

An Island Fox in a Fig Tree

Discover what's to come over the 12 Days of Winter
Follow Friends of the Island Fox on:

Twitter @ifoxtweet
Facebook islandfoxtweet
or Instagram islandfoxnews

Join in the fun each day through January 1! 
What will be your favorite day?

Friday, December 15, 2017

Island Foxes and the Thomas Fire

Santa Cruz Island shrouded in Thomas Fire smoke, 12/12/17
Yes, there is smoke on the water. While the Thomas Fire is burning on the mainland in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties, smoke has blown off-shore engulfing the islands. On satellite images, Santa Cruz Island has frequently disappeared in the smoke.

NASA satellite photo 12/8/17
While embers from the fire did reach Santa Cruz in the early days of the Thomas Fire, no fires ignited on the island. In fact, on Tuesday, Dec. 12, FIF observers reported numerous island foxes behaving normally.

This young fox in the toyon tree was foraging for toyon berries. Can you find the fox in this picture? Other island foxes were hunting on the ground beneath the toyons and redberries. Despite the smoke, island foxes were well.

We know some of the people impacted by the massive Thomas Fire are island fox friends, biologists, National Park employees, and island fox supporters. Friends of the Island Fox extends its thoughts to everyone in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties who have lost homes and been displaced by this tragic event.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Fox Foto Friday - Island Fox Pairs

Marty Chin - I took this on my first trip to Santa Cruz Island back in 2011 with the Sierra Club 20's and 30's Group. I spent about an hour watching these rascally young foxes looking for food, playing, and marking territory. Love Friends of the Island Fox and the great work you do.  I met some of your volunteers twice on Earth Days at the LA Zoo.

Thank you Marty for sending in your photo for our Fox Foto Friday. This pair of island foxes is the perfect December image. Right now island fox pairs are taking a break from family life, but around the end of the year they will find a mate or re-establish their pair bond.

Submit your island fox photo to and be part of Fox Foto Friday.

Friday, November 17, 2017

What Do Brown Boobies Have To Do With Island Foxes?

Have you heard that a seabird called the brown booby (Sula leucogaster) has recently been found nesting on Santa Barbara Island for the first time? 

brown booby beneath western gull; Santa Barbara Island, CA

If you did, you might not have connected this news to island foxes. Brown boobies have historically been residents of Baja and Mexican coastlines. They typically feed on fish species found in warmer waters and are considered a tropical and subtropical species. Channel Islands National Park reports that brown boobies have been gradually moving north since the 1990s. Their occurrence on the Channel Islands coincides with documentation of warmer ocean temperatures along California's coast. The fact that these southern birds are attempting to nest here for the first time is evidence of a healthy marine ecosystem, but also changing local climate. Similarly, our brown pelicans (Pelecanus occidentalis), which were previously only known to nest in California, have been ranging further north. They have attempted to nest along Washington's Columbia River and in the past few years have become summer regulars in southern British Columbia, Canada.

Strong-flying birds have the ability to relocate as temperatures change. Island foxes and the other terrestrial plants and animals of the Channel Islands do not have that option. They will have to adapt to changes in their environment to survive. There are some reports of island foxes breeding and having pups earlier on the southern Channel Islands then documented in the past. Lightening storms brought fire to Santa Cruz this summer and extended drought has challenged some island fox populations.

While the brown boobies are a native coastal species, they have only been occasional visitors to the Channel Islands in the past. Brown boobies are diving seabirds larger than our commonly seen western gull (Larus occidentalis). They are exciting to see, but will their northern movement have an impact on other native species? (video of brown boobies on Santa Barbara Island in 2015 via

Are there other, small and less observable species, that are also relocating to the Channel Islands? Will climate roamers bring beneficial diversity or new parasites and disease? 

In this time of global change, monitoring island foxes and their island ecosystem is vital to the species' long-term survival.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Re-examining Island Fox Diet

What do island foxes eat?

Island fox scat with native fruit seeds
It is a common question and examining island fox scat (or poop) has provided some of the best answers. In 2009 a year-long study examined island fox scat over four seasons and across the six islands where they live. New Findings on Island Fox Diet.

The findings from this study, however, were done before multi-year drought impacted vegetation across California and on several islands. Have island foxes shifted their diet to other foods to make-up for the decreased availability of some plant foods or prey species?

Island fox scat with insect exoskeleton remnants
In 2009, island fox populations were recovering on four islands from near extinction and their population numbers were still relatively low. Most fox pairs could establish a territory in an area with abundant resources. Now that the populations have recovered, are island foxes eating a more diverse diet to meet their food needs? Are beetles and insects still the most frequently eaten prey? Have island foxes in marginal territories started to consume other food items? 

In addition to scat, whisker samples can provide evidence of what an island fox has eaten over several months. Whiskers are specialized hairs that grow over an extended amount of time. Trimming an inch or two off the end of a whisker, can provide researchers with information on what a specific individual fox has been eating. Isotopes laid down in the hair shaft document the kinds of proteins and plant matter consumed.

 While we don't think of island foxes eating marine animals, during a limited test study, one individual island fox was found to have isotope markers that signaled it was eating marine proteins, fish or crustaceans. Was this individual unusual?

Research on island fox diet is an on-going project. Biologists in the field counting island foxes on the northern islands were taking whisker samples this year.

Whether it is scat or whisker samples, it is time to add a new chapter to research on island fox diet.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Fox Foto Friday - How Old Is That Island Fox?

How can you tell the age of an island fox?

Biologists used to determine general age by looking at an island fox's teeth. Individuals with worn teeth were thought to be older animals. Island foxes living in dune areas, however, may consume sand while eating insects and crustaceans. Sand wears away the teeth and can make an island fox appear older than it really is.

Most island foxes are in their prime from 2-6 years old. The island fox pictured above no longer has the pricked-up pointy ears of a youngster. His battered right ear has been bitten a few times by other island foxes, a sign that he is an adult with a little mileage. Compare older foxes vs. younger foxes

Some island foxes can have ears torn off in territorial deputes with other island foxes. Island fox missing an ear.

Initially it was believed that island foxes lived 8-10 years in the wild. But ID microchips have provided specific information on individual island foxes. On Santa Cruz Island the oldest documented island fox was a female born in the captive breeding program that lived to be 12 years old. On Catalina Island, numerous island foxes have lived to be 12, while several individuals have neared 13 or 14 years old.

The individual island fox above is probably between 4 and 10. It's hard to guess by appearance alone. His microchip and annually collected health-check data can tell us specific information about his life. Collecting scientific data on island foxes is helping us to understand their lives in greater detail.