This is the second instalment of the Fox Diary. Where we continue to look at their habits. We will look at how they find food, on what they predate and how they survive.
With mating over (give or take an odd late coupling) the Fox is now preparing for life as a parent. It is a relative stable month now that dispersal is complete and fights for mating rights have extinguished.
Quite frequently a Vixen from the original breeding pair won’t be dispersed, she will stay with her parents and assist in the bringing up of the next litter; by doing so she will have given up the right to breed but may benefit from a secure territory and local knowledge of food sources etc. I have heard that on occasion, a Dog from the original parents might stay on as a helper but I have never seen this personally. So, for the sake of this piece, we will call the helper ‘Aunty’. When observing Foxes at this time of year you should expect to see the pairs in the same fields or fairly close by at least. Don’t be surprised if you see three adults in close proximity as this could be the scenario outlined above.
Later in the year these Aunties are significant in the likely success of the litter. If you do see three Foxes together it would be useful to try and identify the sexes. The Dog Fox is larger than the Female and is often a little more stocky in appearance too. Without something to compare scale the easiest way to identify the male is by his prominent, white furry testacles! The Vixen will spend her days in the earth she has prepared and will really only venture out for food. She will be counting down to giving birth; the gestation period is, on average, 52 days.
I’ve just been reminded by a friend of mine that it is not unusual to have 2 Vixens sharing an Earth; what looks to be a very large litter could well be two separate groups.
With the Game Season over the requirement of protection of the Birds goes with it. These birds will now help to sustain any Foxes that are quick enough to catch them; Partridge are particularly vulnerable but Foxes will ambush Pheasants successfully too. As a controller you have an opportunity to either leave the Foxes alone OR keep controlling them as a preventative measure which makes the task easier come July/August when the new batch of birds are released. It really comes down to your brief and individual needs and both views can be readily validated. For me, I tend to turn my attention to the Deer for February so the Foxes have some respite.
Conversely, February is the month to gear up for Outdoor Lambing which, locally, happens just before and over Easter. It is a good idea to start looking across the Sheep fields and to pick off Foxes that are resident. By resident, I mean the ones you see at Dusk and Dawn as these are much less likely to have travelled to get on to the land. Others may move in but you have a head start. You may not see too much Fox activity initially as the Ewes are capable of looking after themselves and there isn’t too much for the Fox to eat except their normal diet of Worms etc. but as soon as the Ewes start lambing the scent is like a magnet to Foxes; they will come in from far and wide to get an easy meal of after birth but may take the opportunity for a Lamb.
To assist in getting a head start you can use a caller to draw Foxes in. This may seem counter-intuitive but bringing Foxes in to a specific area that is a known distance and a safe place has real benefits. People have different ideas but in my own experience a simple Rabbit Squeal works well. I believe that Foxes won’t be too interested in Lamb in distress if there is no smell of Lamb in the air but a Rabbit is a staple of the Fox diet and a hungry Fox will take an easy meal. Calling can be done with a mouth whistle; these have been used for decades and work very well, they’re convenient and don’t need batteries however they can and do bring Foxes in from behind you so be vigilant and move slowly as you check around your firing position. Electronic Callers have become very popular in recent years; when loaded with UK predated species they can be an effective lure. Placed 100m away in a position of good visibility you can gain an easy advantage over any curious Fox. Start the call loudly for say 1 minute then calm it down to half volume or just below. Remember that Foxes have fantastic hearing. As you spot a Fox heading towards the caller lower the volume to make it more difficult for the Fox to locate the caller and keep him ‘in play’. I tend not to play long bursts of calling; it wouldn’t be natural for a Rabbit to be screaming for 20 mins so 3 mins of calling followed by a break of 5 mins may work better but some experimentation and practice is required. Callers are part of your equipment, they are not a Holy Grail and will not ‘magic’ Foxes. You need to have Foxes in the area and they need to be interested too. I have seen may a Fox walk past a caller on a bee-line somewhere and nothing was going to stop it! Be realistic about what callers can do for you. Foxes don’t like the smell of Dogs or Humans so when positioning the caller leave the Dog in the truck and try smearing a bit of Dog Food around the caller to act as bait but also mask human musk.
Next month I want to touch on rifles for humane despatching of Fox along with ammunition suggestions. It is important to keep your skills fresh; shooting is a perishable skill making practice on targets essential to ensure humane despatch.
As always, I would appreciate your comments and thoughts. The Fox is not entirely predictable and we are all learning.