The red fox is the most widely distributed land mammal aside from humans and can be found across Britain, Europe, North America, and Asia. As seen on our wildlife camera (courtesy of Tevi https://tevi.co.uk/camera-traps/) foxes are largely nocturnal, usually hunting and operating from around dusk and right into the night. In the daytime, these family- oriented mammals rest in groups, hidden away from potential threats. However, they will occasionally hunt in the day too, dependant on their habitat. Although preferring to be together during the day, at night the red fox is a solitary animal, hunting alone but checking in on and calling to other members of its skulk.
Foxes can use up to 28 different sounds to communicate with one another
In a study done by WildCRU at Oxford University, it was found that around 18% of a fox’s night was spent with or calling to others from their group and were in contact with other fox groups only 1% of the time. The encounters with other groups were actively avoided, as when they do happen, they can result in fights, which are not beneficial for either party. Similarly to humans, foxes are able to recognise the different voices from individuals in their group and scientists have recorded that they use up to 28 different sounds when they communicate with each other.
Winter breeding months
Around the winter months, foxes tend to start thinking about breeding. In December, the strongest male and female fox are sticking together, sharing food, and protecting their territory from interlopers. In January, the distinctive screams and gekkers (a fighting/ playing call) of the foxes can be heard more prominently and regularly. This is the start of mating season, and male foxes are very active during the night, trying to find a suitable partner. By February, many vixens are pregnant and far more elusive, focussing their time on making multiple dens and choosing which one is best for birthing nursing their kits.
Fox cubs learn to hunt from their parents and ‘nannies’
Towards the end of March when both parents begin to hunt to feed their young, they will occasionally get a non-breeding female fox to become a ‘nanny’ to their cubs. These nannies, or ‘aunts’, will often live in the same den as the family and will protect the cubs from danger. The young foxes will begin to open their eyes at about two weeks old, and then start to venture out of the den at four weeks. Some of the first animals that they learn to hunt are rodents, as it is an easy way to practice their pouncing technique!
The biggest threat to foxes are humans
Unfortunately, the biggest threat that these beautiful animals face are humans, but it is preventable. One of the biggest factors in fox cub deaths are not predators, but rather motor vehicles, especially in the evening when they are more active. Rat poison is also a contributor to the deaths of foxes (as well as many other wild animals) as it sits in the rat’s system for days after ingesting, and if then hunted by a fox, will enter their system and kill them too. Ways to minimise these unnecessary deaths is to take extra care when driving in low light, especially on country roads and to find safer forms of pest control if necessary. The fox’s presence in our ecosystem is vital as, they themselves help to control the populations of rodents and rabbits, as well as diffusing and scattering seeds throughout their habitat.
Maeve Cushla, Young Curator, PK Porthcurno