Channel Island Fox

Urocyon littoralis

The Channel Island fox is a small fox species unique to the Channel Islands of California. They are a descendent of the larger mainland gray fox, however due to natural phenomenon known as "island dwarfism", their body size was eventually decreased as living on an island means limited resources and space. The Channel Island fox is found nowhere else on Earth but on six of the eight Channel Islands. Each of the six island's populations of fox is considered a separate subspecies and endemic to the area.

Conservation status conservation_status_image
remain in the world
Endangered for over
Range can cover
1 - 3.39
square kilometers
  • Scientific Name
    Urocyon littoralis
  • Weight
    4-5 lbs
  • Size
    12-13 inches
  • Life Span
    10-15 years
  • Habitat
    Complex layer vegetation with a high density of woody, perennially fruiting shrubs.
  • Diet
  • Gestation
    54 days
  • Predators
    Golden eagle


The Channel Island fox is known to be the smallest fox in North America. They are similar in appearance to their gray fox cousins, with gray fur on their heads and sides, rusty red limbs and a white underbelly. They also have black markings down their back. They can weigh between 2.2 - 6.2 lbs, making them smaller than the size of the average house cat. Each island's unique subspecies of fox has shown to be physically different from one another. For instance, the foxes of San Miguel Island have shorter tails (due to less vertebra) and longer noses than the other island foxes. The foxes living on Santa Catalina Island are the largest in size and foxes on Santa Cruz Island are the smallest. Although small in size, the Channel Island fox has no natural predators and they live on a diverse diet of fruits, birds, lizards, and other small animals. The foxes have also been known to visit the shoreline of the islands and forage for crabs. Channel Island foxes are considered a "keystone species" within its habitat because, without it, the natural ecosystem of the island would collapse. The foxes prey on other island species and help to keep their populations down. They also work to spread seeds through their scat, resulting in healthy plant and biologically diverse communities on the island.


The Channel Islands are located in a semi-arid climate. Although the Channel Island fox is known to live throughout different areas and biomes of the islands, they prefer to live in a densely shrubbed or wooded area with ample cover. Channel Island foxes practice monogamous pairing and breed once a year. They usually give birth to their kits in abandoned dens made by other animals residing on the islands. It is also thought that this species of fox has an extended period of prenatal care compared to other fox species, meaning the young stay with their parents longer than usual.


Although the numbers of Channel Island foxes has always been low due to island size, four of the fox subspecies were almost decimated in the 1990s. Bald eagles, which traditionally live on a marine diet, had called the Channel Islands home until the effects of DDT overcame a significant portion of their population. Without bald eagles living in the area, golden eagles moved in to make the Channel Islands their new home. Originally attracted to the Islands due to their large feral pig population, the golden eagles also started to predate on the Channel Island foxes. By 2000, the predation of the foxes was so bad that only 15 foxes were left on the San Miguel and Santa Rosa Islands, and less than 80 on Santa Cruz Island. In 2004, each of the island's fox subspecies was listed as a federally protected endangered species.

Conservation Effort

In 1999, a recovery program for the Channel Island fox was put in place to help re-establish the animal’s population. The program had four main pillars to uphold it:

  • the captive breeding, and reintroduction, of foxes
  • the removal and relocation of the golden eagles
  • the reintroduction of bald eagles to the Islands
  • the removal of the non-native feral pigs

This strategy was able to reverse the impending extinction of the endangered population.


The captive breeding of Channel Island foxes ended in 2008 and all healthy foxes were returned back into the wild. As of 2017/18, the populations of the foxes has recovered and have been removed from the endangered species list. The strategy to bring the Channel Island fox from near extinction brought many changes to the islands, such as:

  • Over 40 golden eagles were captured and relocated from the Islands
  • Bald eagles were reintroduced into the Channel Island ecosystem
  • Feral pigs, and other ungulates were removed from the northern Channel Islands

How You Can Help

The populations of the Channel Island foxes are now considered stable but you can still help to ensure the Channel Island fox populations remain healthy. If you are ever in the area, please:

  • keep your dogs on leash
  • properly dispose of all pet and human waste
  • do not feed the foxes
  • drive slowly and be alert for wildlife, especially at dusk and dawn


It’s the little things that citizens do. That’s what will make the difference. My little thing is planting trees.
— Wangari Maathai

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