Hey You Wild Fox: Smile! You’re on Camera


Foxes, bears, squirrels and possums, oh my!  It may not be obvious to the casual observer, but our county parks are teaming with wildlife and we have the photos to prove it.

Approximately 35 remotely activated cameras are used by our wildlife management staff and the Park Authority to collect information on our wildlife population. The number of cameras in place varies at a given time based on species activity, season and research/management objectives.

A camera trap (also known as a trail camera or game camera) is equipped with a sensor that triggers a still image or video clip when an animal is detected. The cameras provide an efficient and relatively inexpensive method for wildlife managers to collect data without having to be on-site. The county has been using camera traps since the late 90s and use has been increasing as technology has advanced.

Understanding Wildlife

Photo of wild turkey taken at a county park.

Trap cameras are used primarily to conduct research on wildlife populations to better understand abundance, distribution and the behavior of wildlife species. They also gather information in response to conflicts associated with wildlife, including public safety or nuisance species that may impact county properties. Cameras were placed in Riverbend Park last summer to survey black bear activity in response to public concern over increased sightings in residential communities bordering the park. The cameras are most commonly used to monitor white-tailed deer, beaver, coyote and red fox.

“Wildlife in Fairfax County are very active. These include deer, black bear, fox, raccoon, gray squirrel, flying squirrel, Virginia opossum, Canada goose, turkey vulture, eastern wild turkey, numerous songbirds and even bobcats (although these are rare).”Katherine Edwards, wildlife management specialist
A Vital Resource

A handful of studies throughout the county utilize trap cameras:

  • To get estimates of the deer herd on county parkland to compare deer herd data over years to establish any trends.
  • To determine deer density at feeding stations, as well as to monitor the use by other wildlife species.
  • At stormwater management ponds to keep watch on beaver activity around the outflow structure.
  • The Park Authority partnered with the Smithsonian Institution’s eMammal survey program in 2014 and 2015 to collect and analyze camera trap data to document the abundance and distribution of carnivores colonizing urban areas in the eastern United States.
Become a Wildlife Photographer!

Camera traps are not just for wildlife professionals, they are also a great tool for you to learn more about wildlife in your neighborhood. The cameras are easy to operate and can be purchased from most sporting goods stores. However, before you place a camera outside your property, make sure you have permission from the property owner.

Learn Camera Trapping at Riverbend Park in April and June


And just a friendly reminder to never approach, touch or feed wildlife! If you believe an animal is acting erratically and may be sick or injured, please contact Animal Control at 703-691-2131, TTY 711.

Read About Native Wildlife and Wildlife Management


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