Whether we live in the countryside or a bustling city, most of us have seen a fox during our lifetime. But how much do you know about one of the UKs most iconic animals?
There are around 258,000 adult foxes living in UK. Most of these live in rural areas (including woodland, farmland and wetland habitats), but that doesn’t mean you will see a fox when you next go for a walk through the countryside. Rural foxes are very shy, and unfortunately, have declined by a massive 34% since 1995. You are more likely to see an urban fox trotting down the street or denning under your shed!
What do foxes eat?
Foxes have one of the most diverse diets in the animal world. They are expert hunters, catching rabbits, rodents, birds, frogs and earthworms as well as eating carrion. However, foxes aren’t carnivorous; they are actually omnivores who also dine on berries and fruit. Urban foxes will also scavenge for food in dustbins, and often catch pigeons and rats.
Fox cubs enter the world deaf, blind and dependent on their mother’s milk, much like domestic puppies. The cubs start eating solid food at around four weeks old and are usually completely weaned by the time they are 12 weeks of age.
What can I feed foxes in my garden?
There is some controversy around feeding the foxes in your garden, but if you feed them in the right way, they can bring a huge amount of joy to your family.
Trying to tame, touch or hand-feed foxes, especially in urban areas. As wild animals, they should be respected and deterred from becoming too bold. Many people are scared of urban foxes because they mistake their inquisitive behaviour for aggression.
Putting out excessive amounts of food that could encourage foxes to become overconfident.
Putting out food they can take away and cache. Offering something they can eat on the spot discourages them from digging up neighbours’ gardens! There is no guarantee they will be as pleased to see them as you.
Leaving out uneaten food that could attract unwanted visitors like rats.
The bulk of a fox’s diet is made up of meat protein, so the best things to feed your local foxes are cooked or raw meat, or tinned dog food. They are also fond of peanuts, fruit and cheese.
Foxes can be fed all year round but should follow a set feeding routine. This encourages them to return to your garden at a certain time to wait for their meal. Food is less likely to be left standing, which in turn discourages rats.
Where do foxes live?
Though rural foxes are declining and you are more likely to see a fox in an urban environment, the bulk of the UKs fox population does live in the countryside.
Foxes are fantastic diggers and live underground in excavated burrows called ‘dens’ or ‘earths’. However, foxes are also capable of living above ground, especially if they can find a sheltered spot.
What noise does a fox make?
Foxes can make around 28 different sounds. Despite this, they are a mostly silent animal; calling largely during the winter breeding season. You are most likely to hear one of two distinctive fox noises: the dog fox’s barking call and the vixen’s chilling scream.
A dog fox bark is a loud ‘a-woo!’ that sounds much like a domestic canine. They use this contact call to communicate with friends and rivals, and you can listen to it here.
Vixens, on the other hand, sound more like screaming humans! Their sharp ‘Woooo!’ rises and then tails off across the landscape, telling male foxes they are ready to breed. You can listen to it here.
If you are lucky enough to stumble across a countryside fox family or have foxes denning in your garden, you may hear the cubs making a playful ‘Ack-ack-ack-ack’ noise as they wrestle with each other. You can listen to them here.
What do fox markings and droppings look like?
The best places to find fox paw prints are in the mud or snow, in woodlands, wetlands and the wider countryside. Like dogs, foxes have one central pad surrounded by four toe pads. These impressions can clearly be seen in the ground, complete with claw marks. However, fox paw prints are typically narrower than dog prints. They also have a smaller, almost diamond-shaped central pad, with toe markings that sit higher up.
In some ways, fox paw prints also look similar to cat prints. Since cats can retract their claws, however, you won’t see claw marks in cat prints. You can compare and contrast the three, here.
Fox droppings (or scat) are much easier to tell apart than dog droppings. Fox droppings are typically dark, long and squiggly, and tapered at the ends, whereas dog droppings can be much bigger and messier. Fox droppings also tend to contain leftovers from their meals: undigested animal hair, crushed bones and even fruit pips. They like using them to mark their territory, so you are likely to see them out in the open. Keep your eyes peeled around prominent tufts of grass, stones and logs, and in urban areas, the middle of your lawn!
Are you fascinated by foxes and would like to find out more about them?