Life in the Sunken Forest: Wildlife

White-tailed deer
White-tailed deer

The most visible mammal on Fire Island is the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). It is also Fire Island's largest resident mammal, with males weighing over 150 pounds.

Forty years ago, deer where almost never seen in the Sunken Forest. Their numbers on Fire Island, though, have increased dramatically over the past four decades, from around 50 in the 1970s to 300 - 500 today.

Red Fox
Red Fox
If you are able to time your walk for the early morning or late afternoon and look carefully, you might get a glimpse of a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) as it wanders the forest looking for food. At 10-15 pounds, the red fox is Fire Island's largest carnivore (meat eater) and is more common than most visitors realize.

Red foxes hunt prey ranging in size from insects to rabbits, and will also eat berries and other fruits. Fire Island's foxes often dig their dens at the base of the primary dunes; look for their holes as you walk through the swale.

Meadow Vole
Meadow Vole

One animal that needs to be particularly wary of the red fox is the meadow vole. Even though rarely seen by visitors, this small rodent is one of Fire Island's most common mammals.

The best way to see a meadow vole is to listen for their rustling through the leaves on the forest floor. They will occasionally show themselves as they run from one hiding spot to the next

Box Turtle
Box Turtle

The most frequently seen reptile on Fire Island is the box turtle. As with the meadow vole, one of the best ways to find a box turtle is to listen for it as it walks on top of dry leaves. Box turtles are very difficult to spot because of their excellent camouflage. Male box turtles have red eyes, while females' eyes are brown.

If you are lucky and find a box turtle, please leave it where you find it. Many well-meaning people have collected them to take home as pets, which threatens their existence here on Fire Island and elsewhere.

Gray Squirrel

Other animals to look for in the Sunken Forest are the gray squirrel, eastern cottontail rabbit, long-tailed weasel, and the black racer (a snake).


Last updated: March 31, 2012

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