This series is all about the Fox. We will look at their habits, diet, mating and so on. We will look at how they find food, on what they predate and how they survive. Continuing with their habitat we will attempt to demonstrate what the Fox is doing at any time of the year.
As part of this series we want to look at what can be done to reduce the impact of Fox on livestock as well as methods and techniques to ensure the best success in reducing the impact of this controversial animal. Love them or loathe them there is definitely a place for them in our Countryside.
As the author of this series I will draw upon data and information from other sources as well as my own experiences and hope to provide monthly pieces to give a rounded view of the Fox. I am engaged in Fox control and hope to express my views but welcome comments and questions too. It is true that I despatch hundreds of these animals as part of a wildlife programme but it does not diminish the great respect I have for them; the countryside would be a duller place without Vulpes Vulpes, the Red Fox.
January is usually peak of the mating season, but with milder winters they are often heard breeding in December and some have reported as early as November. January also tends to be the month when the cubs are dispersed; seen as a direct threat to the breeding rights of their parents but also impinging on food supplies. These sub-adults can been seen trying to establish their own territories and secure an early mate.
The resident dog fox and vixen will be actively defending the territory against intruders, both physically and vocally. The Dog will be defending his opportunity to mate and will not give this up lightly. They bark, urinate and defecate along the borders of their territory. I found out only recently that the Fox defecates on high ground (park benches and the like) as it helps spread their scent and deters interlopers. (Never too old to learn).
The dog fox will shadow the vixen, she is only receptive for a period of about 3 to 4 days; he stays close to ensure he’s ready when she is. When she is ready she flirts around the dog fox. Many people will observe the foxes in the process of mating as they have no sense of modesty once the urge is upon them. When the vixen is ready the dog fox will grasp her from behind with his front two legs and start to mate. The swelling of the penis and the and constriction of the Vagina cause the pair to lock together, known as the ‘tie’. They can be locked together for several hours. The vixen will start to prepare an earth prior to giving birth; in a town environment it’s likely the chosen place will be under a garden shed. In the countryside, disused rabbit warrens are common, as are badger setts.
So with mating in full swing the Foxes are pre-occupied but they still have to eat. There is little or nothing available in the way of berries so the adaptable Fox concentrates on being a Carnivore; Mice, Rats, Earth worms are staple items along with Rabbits and Pigeons too. Being in the middle of the Game season there are plenty of opportunities to get a good sized meal with Partridge and Pheasant making up calories during the Winter months. As a footnote; some Farms lamb over Christmas which can draw in Foxes; the scent of new-born Lamb and afterbirth is very appealing.
Fox Control in January
Assuming that any Lambing is being done indoors with the Sheep packed into a barn or polytunnel the Fox has little chance of getting a meal as there are too many watchful mothers! They will concentrate on the Gamebirds, particularly Partridge as they don’t roost and spend the night on the ground or in low level brush. Gamekeepers often use cover crops to give the birds an advantage but it doesn’t stop Fox trying his luck. That’s where I look first at this time of year.
Sheep farms need to be monitored; Foxes establishing territories and by breeding on Sheep fields they know that, come spring, there will be a wealth of food available to them. If your farm rears outdoors in spring it is better to shoot 2 Foxes now rather than them have cubs; those extra mouths need feeding and there will be more to deal with later in the year when the cubs become independent.
Foxes can be witnessed on Cattle/Dairy fields trying to get at worms. Cow pats encourage worms, couple that with soft digging and you have a very desirable spot. If the farm is a smallholding as well then there is a good reason to deal with Foxes but they do no harm to cows so I leave them be.
Next month I hope to add a piece on calling Foxes and begin looking at equipment and timings too.
As I said earlier please do get in touch with any comments you may have.