English foxes are Red foxes – there are many different species around the world.
Male foxes are known as dogs, females as vixens and the young as cubs or, sometimes, kits, reflecting their cat-like agility.
Foxes weigh between 5-7kg on average, with the females usually being lighter than the males. Their coat, in varying shades of red, is very thick and luxurious, which led to them being hunted for their fur. They have a thick, bushy tail which is used to help them balance when running and jumping and also for warmth when sleeping; foxes will often lie curled up with their tail over their nose. Their ears are large, to enable them to hear the slightest sound, and they have extremely good night vision and sense of smell. With their very light bones and long, flexible back, they can spring high into the air to pounce on their prey from above and are able to jump heights of up to two metres
Foxes will sleep out in the open for much of the year; their dens, called earths, are primarily used by the vixen and cubs for the first two to three months after the cubs are born. The earth is sometimes dug out by the fox but they will often appropriate an old rabbit burrow or an unused part of a badger sett. Urban foxes may use a suitable space under a shed or outbuildings. They are generally nocturnal but it is not unusual to see them about during the day, particularly in winter when food supplies may be scarce.
Foxes can live to 10 or 12 in captivity but are lucky to make it to one year old in the wild; it is estimated that up to 50% die during their first year. The main causes of mortality are habitat destruction and road traffic. They are susceptible to mange which is caused by a parasite, Sarcoptes Scabei (not the same as Scabies in humans), though fit, healthy animals seem to be less easily infected. The activity of the mites causes intense itching and hair loss, causing the fox to scratch and bite itself constantly, this leads to open wounds which become infected and an untreated fox is likely to be dead in four or five months. The parasite can be passed to dogs but treatment is easy.
Cubs are born in March and April and, as with many mammals, they are born blind. The size of the litter is determined by the local food supply, with more cubs being born if food is plentiful. The vixen will usually prepare a choice of dens before the birth and may move the litter several times. Foxes live in family groups for much of the year and mating pairs tend to stay together. They are very territorial and male cubs are usually forced out of the territory when they reach maturity in the autumn. Female cubs will sometimes stay with the family group and may help with the rearing of the following year’s litter.
Foxes are omnivores and scavengers and will eat whatever they can find wherever they are. They will eat small mammals, making them useful in rodent control, carrion, earthworms, fruit and berries, insects and will scavenge through human rubbish. Small domestic pets (rabbits and guinea pigs) are vulnerable to foxes if kept outside and should be well secured. Foxes are unlikely to kill cats though they will carry off already dead cats; cats are more likely to chase off foxes and will certainly kill cubs if they can. Foxes apparently trying to catch cats are often vixens chasing cats away from their cubs or, if there appears to be a pack of foxes chasing a cat, half-grown cubs being curious; foxes are solitary hunters and don’t hunt in packs.
Surplus food is often buried in shallow holes, a trait called caching, to save it for another day. Similar behaviour can be seen in domestic dogs when they bury bones in the garden and is the reason behind a fox killing all the chickens in a henhouse. It will take away what it can and try to return later to ‘cache’ the rest. Foxes have a good memory for where they have buried food, unlike squirrels who bury surplus food but then forget where!
If you are experiencing problems with foxes, there are measures you can take discourage them from your garden, although these may also discourage other wildlife from visiting.
Make sure they can’t get at food put out for birds or other animals..
Store rubbish in secure bins and don’t leave it out overnight in plastic bags.
Don’t use bone or fishmeal fertilizers as the smell will attract them; use compost instead.
Prevent them from making dens under buildings and sheds by blocking access; weld mesh is good but should be buried at least 12” deep as foxes are good tunnellers (make sure that hedgehogs and other small mammals are not trapped asleep inside the mesh).
Keep outdoor pets indoors at night and make sure that their hutches and runs are fox-proof; weld-mesh is better than chicken-wire, which foxes can bite through, and locks and bolts should be secure.
If you find an injured fox contact us for advice on what to do