New York State Fox, Wild Cat, and Wild Dog Identification Guide
Identifying characteristics: Medium-sized cat with a coat that varies from light gray to yellowish-brown to reddish brown. Spots or small stripes are almost always present and more prominent on the sides and limbs than the back. The sides of the face have rough, sideburn-like tufts of hair. The backs of the triangular ears and the top of the tip of the tail is black. The tail is short, rarely more than 6 inches in length, and is white underneath.
Size: Up to 3.5 feet in length (not including their tails), roughly 2 feet high and up to 33 pounds. Males are slightly larger than females.
Habitat: A variety of habitats, including forests, brushland and mountainous regions. Dens are usually in hollow or fallen trees, rock crevices or other debris.
Food: Carnivorous. Will hunt for rabbits, rodents, ground birds and sometimes small deer. Will also scavenge for carrion. Are a threat to small domesticated animals.
Predators: Humans for pelts. Kittens are the prey of foxes, owls and coyotes.
Reproduction: Litter size average 2-3 (sometimes up to 8 kittens) with one litter every year. Young stay with the mother for about 8 months. Mating season is in winter. This is the only wild cat known to reproduce in NY state.
Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal. Generally live up to 12 years in the wild, longer in captivity. They are usually solitary, having territories reaching 4 square miles. A male’s territory may overlap with many females’. Females do not have overlapping territories. They use urine, feces and scent glands to mark their territory.
Vocalization:Typical big cat sounds: grunts, yowls, and roars.
Found in most counties, excluding areas bordering the great lakes.
Bobcat tracks show four toes, no claw marks and a “M”-shaped pad. The tracks average 1-1.5 inches in size with strides of 1-1.5 feet (3-5 feet when running). The hind prints usually fall within the front prints.
Canada Lynx (Lynx canadensis)
Identifying characteristics: Medium-sized cat with a coat that is normally grey to yellowish-brown. Their white-tipped fur appears frosted. Spots or small stripes are sometimes present. The sides of the face have rough sideburn-like tufts of hair. The triangular ear tufts and the backs of the ears are black. The tail is short, like the bobcat, but has black rings and a black tip. The legs are longer than the bobcat and the paws are much larger, being more adapted for walking in snow. Generally the Lynx is more fluffy-looking than the Bobcat.
Size: Up to 3.5 feet in length (not including their tails), roughly 2 feet high and up to 38 pounds. Males are slightly larger than females.
Habitat: Mature forests with plenty of ground cover, near rocky areas. Dens are usually under rock ledges, fallen trees or within shrubs.
Food: Carnivorous. Ambush hunters. Concentrate on snowshoe hares, which are a large part of their diet, but will also feed on rodents, ground birds, and fish. They have also been known to prey on deer. Will also scavenge for carrion.
Predators: Humans. Kittens may be preyed upon by larger predators.
Reproduction: Litter size ranges between 1-8 depending on availability of prey, with one litter every year. Young stay with the mother for about 4 months. Mating season is in winter.
Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal. Generally live up to 14 years in the wild, twice as long in captivity. They are generally solitary having territories reaching 190 square miles. Territories tend to overlap. They use urine, feces and scent glands to mark their territory.
Vocalization: Typical big cat sounds: grunts, yowls, and roars.
Although a program to release the lynx in NY state was run from 1989-93, in which over 80 Lynx were released in the Adirondack region, there is no evidence that there are any breeding populations here. Many lynx sightings tend to be really bobcats. Though it it is certainly possible, given their large territories, that there are several individuals passing through in the northern-most counties.
Status:Threatened in NY State.
Lynx tracks show four toes, no claw marks and a “M”-shaped pad. The tracks average 3-3.5 inches in size with strides of 1-1.5 feet (3-5 feet when running). The hind prints usually fall within the front prints. Heavy fur on the paws may lead to obscuring of the toes marks.
Identifying characteristics: A large cat, with a long, slender body, often grayish or yellowish-brown with paler undersides. The heads are relatively small and broad, with small rounded ears. The area around the mouth, neck and chest are white. The pinkish nose is bordered by black that runs down the lips and down the sides of the muzzle. The backs of the ears, outlines of the eyes and the tips of the long tails are black. The tail is roughly 1/3 the length of the body, larger than the lynx or bobcat. Juveniles tend to have spotting or stripes that fade with age.
Size: Roughly 3.5 feet tall and 7 feet in length. Weighing an average of 140 pounds. Males are slightly larger than females.
Habitat: Mountainous forest, grasslands, dry brush any other habitats with dense vegetation and adequate prey. Dens are usually in caves, rock crevices or within dense vegetation.
Food: Carnivorous. Prey primarily on ungulates, like moose and deer, but will also east small mammals, birds and fish. They are a threat to domesticated animals, livestock and humans. They stalk their prey and leap at them catching and breaking their necks with a powerful bite.
Reproduction: Litter size ranges between 1-6 (averaging 3), with one litter every 2 years. Young stay with the mother for up to 24 months. Mating season is in winter.
Other Info.: The cougar once had the greatest range across North America; more than any other terrestrial mammal. They are generally solitary having territories reaching 200 square miles. A male’s territory may overlap with many females’. They are excellent climbers.
Vocalization: Typical big cat sounds: grunts, yowls, and roars. Generally lower in tone and louder than the lynx or bobcat.
Although once native to the region, habitat loss and hunting have eliminated the cougar from NY and other states east of the Mississippi.
Although numerous sightings are reported in NY, nearly 100% of are other animals, such as the bobcat, coyote, or domestic dog.
Confirmed sightings me be the result of unintentional releases by humans who have kept them as pets or on display.
Status:Extirpated from NY
Cougar tracks show four toes, no claw marks and a “M”-shaped pad. The tracks average 3-3.5 inches in size with strides of 1-2 feet. The hind prints usually fall within the front prints.
Coyote (Canis latrans)
AKA: Prairie wolf
Identifying characteristics: The thick fur coats of this wild dog are generally grayish-brown on the backs, with white throats and bellies. The forelegs, muzzle, sides of the head and back of the ears tend to have a reddish tint to them. Their ears are large, pointed and erect. Their tail is bushy and black-tipped. They carry it below the level of their back when they run. Wolves carry their tails at the level of their back. The muzzle is long and slender and so are their legs. Coyotes have much smaller feet than wolves.
Size: Roughly 2.5-3 feet in length. Weighing an average of 25-45 lbs. They are smaller than wolves and tend to look larger than domestic dogs due to their thick fur.
Habitat: Can be found in a variety of environments, including lightly and heavily forested areas, grassland, swamps, suburban and even urban areas. Wolves are competitors so they generally don’t share the same territories. Dens are usually the former burrows of small mammals, such as groundhogs.
Food: Omnivore. They mostly prey upon small mammals, like rabbits, squirrels, rats and mice, but will also eat other animals, like birds, reptiles, insects or garbage if the opportunity arises. When prey is scarce, they regularly eat plants and fruits. They will also take advantage of carrion and domestic animals.
Reproduction: Mating takes place from Jan to Mar. Litters average 6 in size (sometimes reaching 19!) and occur once a year. Young usually stay with the mothers for up to 2 months.
Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal, but often seen during the day. They are solitary, but will sometimes hunt in small packs or as a family unit. Their territories are generally small with their hunting grounds close to their den.
Vocalization: Their name means “Barking Dog” for a reason. They are usually vocal: whining, yelping and especially howling.
Common all over the state and surrounding states. They are not considered native in NY, but are well established. Becoming increasingly common in suburban areas.
4-toed tracks with claws present. The A-shaped pad is larger in the front print than the smaller hind prints. The prints are about 2-2.5 inches in size and the stride is about 12-16 inches long.
Eastern Timber Wolf (Canis lupus lycaon)
AKA: Gray wolf
Identifying characteristics: This subspecies of the Gray Wolf is the largest of the wild dogs, and are easily confused with large German Shepherd dogs. Their fur color ranges from a mottled grey to completely black or white. They carry their tail at the level of their back when they run, unlike Coyotes, which carry it below the level of their back. Their muzzles are longer and broader and their feet are larger than those of coyotes. Their ears are smaller. Their eyes are a bright yellow.
Size: Roughly 5-6.5 feet in length and 3 feet tall. Weighing up to 165 lbs. Larger than coyotes and domestic dogs.
Habitat: Large parcels of forest or grassland. Their dens are usually caves or holes in the ground dug by the females.
Food: Carnivore. Moose, deer, small bears, small mammals, and ground birds. They will also eat garbage, carrion, livestock and pets. They tend to hunt in packs, but can and will hunt alone or scavenge. Often they will target sick or injured prey.
Reproduction: Mating takes place from Jan to April. Litters average 7 in size and occur once a year. Young may stay with their family pack for 1-3 years. Only the dominant male and female in a pack will breed. Pack members all contribute to the raising of the alpha couple’s young.
Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal, but often seen during the day. Wolves are pack animals with strict social structures. Pack territories are vast, sometimes encompassing thousands of square miles. Wolves are also very aggressive defending their territory, kills and young from intruders. They should not be approached.
Vocalization: They are usually vocal, with typical canid sounds: whining, yelping and especially howling.
There are no known packs of wolves living wild in NY State. It is possible that individuals from adjacent areas (Canada) wander into the state to seek new territories, but it has not been confirmed.
Most sightings are probably coyotes.
Status:Extirpated from NY
4-toed tracks with claws present. Inverted V-shaped pad. The prints are about 4 inches in size and the stride is about 16-18 inches long.
Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus)
AKA: Tree fox
Identifying characteristics: Looking similar to a small dog with a small head and bushy tail, the gray fox is not really gray at all, but has patches of gray that are the result of the mixing of black and white fur. The top of the head, back, sides and tail are this grizzled, salt-and-pepper color. The tail has a black dorsal stripe and tip. The under parts are white and the sides of the head, neck, back and legs tend to be reddish. Their heads are small and ears large and erect. Their muzzles are small and angular, with black lines that run from the eyes to the front of the mouth.
Size: Roughly 3 feet in length (not including their tail, which can be up to 18 inches). Weighing from 8 to 15 lbs. Males are slightly larger than females.
Habitat: Woodland (open or dense) adjacent to open areas, farmland, successional fields. Dens are usually hollow sections of trees or logs and often abandoned woodchuck burrows.
Food: Omnivorous. Primarily cottontail rabbits, but will also feed on small rodents, birds, insects, fruits and other available vegetation.
Reproduction: Mating takes place in late winter. Litters average 4 in size and occur once a year. Young stay with their mother for up to 4 months. Gray foxes are monogamous.
Other Info.: Primarily nocturnal. They are solitary and do not form packs. They have strong hooked claws that enable them to climb trees with ease. These are considered to be some of the most primitive of the canids.
4-toed tracks with claws present. Inverted V-shaped pad. The prints are about 1-1.5 inches in size and the stride is about 13-15 inches long.
Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Identifying characteristics: Red foxes have characteristic rusty red fur. The undersides, including the bottom of the muzzle and neck, are cream colored or white. The lower parts of the legs are generally black. The tail is bushy and can either have a white or black tip. They have large, erect, pointed ears and small angular muzzles. Some variations may have predominantly gray fur, and are known as a Silver Fox, or a black stripe across the shoulders and down the back, which is known as a Cross Fox. Both variants are rare and still within the same species.
Size: Roughly 3 feet in length (not including their tail, which can be up to 18 inches). Weighing from 7 to 15 lbs. Males are slightly larger than females.
Habitat: Forests, open fields and farmland. Dens are usually the former burrows of groundhogs and rabbits, but they may dig their own larger dens.
Food: Omnivorous. Primarily cottontail rabbits, rodents, small mammals, birds, insects and carrion. Fruits and other available vegetation. Often found taking advantage of farmland. Are a threat to poultry.
Predators: Humans, wolves, coyotes, eagles.
Reproduction: Mating takes place in winter. Litters average 4.5 in size and occur once a year. Young stay with their mother until the following autumn. Red foxes are monogamous.
Other Info.: Primarily crepuscular, active in twilight or when moonlight or artificial light is available. They are solitary and do not form packs.
4-toed tracks with claws present. Inverted V-shaped pad with calloused ridge. The foot is covered in hair, so the toes may be indistinct. The prints are about 2 inches in size and the stride is about 12-16 inches long.
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