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 UK’s most iconic animals?
Most foxes live in rural areas including woodland, farmland and wetland habitats. But that doesn’t mean you’ll see a fox when you next go for a country walk – rural foxes are very shy. You are more likely to see an urban fox trotting down the street or denning under your shed!
What do foxes eat?
Foxes have a really diverse diet. They are expert hunters, catching rabbits, rodents, birds, frogs and earthworms as well as eating carrion. But they aren’t carnivorous – they are actually omnivores as they dine on berries and fruit too. 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 dog 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!
- Leaving out food uneaten by foxes 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?
Foxes have been found to be in decline, with the population estimated at 357,000 in 2018. While the bulk of the UK’s fox population lives in the countryside, a 2017 study found that the UK’s urban fox population may be as high as 150,000.
Foxes are fantastic diggers and live underground in excavated burrows called dens or ‘earths’. Foxes can live above ground too, 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 is largely during the winter breeding season. You are most likely to hear one of two distinctive fox noises: the male dog fox’s barking call and the female 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. Listen to a dog fox bark.
Vixens sound more like screaming humans! Their sharp ‘Woooo!’ rises and then tails off across the landscape, telling male foxes they are ready to breed. Listen to a vixen call.
If you are lucky enough to stumble across a countryside fox family or have foxes denning in your garden, you may hear the cubs. They make a playful ‘Ack-ack-ack-ack’ noise as they wrestle with each other. Listen to fox cubs.
What do fox markings and droppings look like?
The best places to find fox paw prints are in the mud or snow, in woods, wetlands and the wider countryside. These impressions can clearly be seen in the ground, complete with claw marks. Like dogs, foxes have one central pad surrounded by four toe pads, though fox prints are narrower than a dog’s. Foxes 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, but since cats can retract their claws, their prints don’t have claw marks.
Fox droppings (or scat) are much easier to tell apart than dog droppings. Fox droppings are typically dark, long and squiggly, and tapered at one end – 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. In the countryside, keep your eyes peeled around prominent tufts of grass, stones and logs. In urban areas, monitor the middle of your lawn!