Love Thy Neighbour: 7 Things You Didn’t Know About Urban Foxes
Wild Capital is delighted to welcome blogger Kirsty Grant. We’re sure you will enjoy her first article on urban foxes.
One of Britain’s largest carnivores is a misunderstood creature, with a bad reputation and hidden secret world right on our doorstep, perhaps we should try to get to know our wild neighbours a little better. All photos below are taken of my own regular visitors.
Who Goes There?
Whatever you’re seeing in your street or back garden, it’ll be a red fox. Vulpes Vulpes, reddish-brown with busy tail and about the size of a small dog. They are typically active at dusk (crepuscular) or night (nocturnal), but more often we’ll see them out in daytime in built-up areas, thus the term urban fox.
Woken up at 3am with shivers down your spine?
It’ll be our friends the red fox again, capable of around 28 different vocalisations however it will usually be the females which we hear. The vixen seemingly screams blue murder to attract a mate around the breeding season in winter and early spring. These high pitched calls should sound more like a shriek with the short aggressive screams indicating mighty territory battles between rival foxes. It may sound painful, but mating in foxes doesn’t cause any harm. Lasting for up to 20 minutes the two animals effectively become ‘locked together’ known as the copulatory tie, they can stay attached like this for up to an hour, and the ‘screaming’ that goers along with it could effectively be considered their love song as they usually mate for life.
Next time instead of letting foxes keep you awake at night have a look out of the window and see what drama is unfolding.
If you are lucky enough to find one making use of your garden, sit back and watch. What you can tell about them by their behaviour? Is it a male with his larger domed head, a smaller female, or a cub with thinner coat and lanky appearance? Are they inquisitive, rotating their ears whilst sniffing, or playful individuals perking their ears and rising on hind legs? Perhaps they have found a safe spot to bed down for a snooze, sleeping for up to 10 hours a day. If foraging for easy prey such as earthworms or insects it could be a cub newly learning how to hunt for themselves, whereas adults still providing for their demanding litter may appear very thin throughout early summer months. Any wounds or marks may indicate the runt of a litter or less dominant cub. Fights will occur underground before they reach 4 weeks of age with around 20 per cent of cubs dying as a result of these spats. With hierarchy established by 7 – 8 weeks, the loser of a fight is usually chased or badly bitten on the rump of the tail. If you do see a fox in serious trouble call The Wildlife Ambulance Service (01892 731565).
A symbol of strength, this is an animal which has adapted to its habitat after the huge urbanisation of previous woodland areas. Appearing in our towns around the 1930’s, changes in lifestyle and new transport systems made travel and settlement much easier. Suburban housing was built in once rural areas, but foxes incredible agility and generalised diet made it easy for them to adapt. They seem to do best in affluent suburbs making good use of the sheltered spaces provided by relatively large gardens. They are omnivores, meaning their diet consists of everything from worms and berries to birds and small mammals. Wherever they are, we should be happy to see one taking refuge or making a den in our gardens. The whole process of raising and providing for vulnerable fox cubs, just a few days old, still with their eyes closed could be happening right under our windows. They are beautiful animals which need encouragement not demonising.
Can you imagine what London’s rat problem would be like without the thousands of foxes already patrolling the streets and keeping them at bay. They help spread wild seeds from site to site, whether on their fur, just as bees would, or by their droppings. This allows wild plants and flowers to grow in new areas and keeps the rest of our fragile urban ecosystem flowing. It would be a much less colourful world without our city foxes.
Not So Cunning
The myths of vicious, savage beasts, capable of devious cunning and all round trouble-makers are exactly that, myths! A small fox cub caught in a snare for two weeks before being rescued by the RSPCA, survived only because his mother continued to bring him food while he was trapped. They are nurturing, sociable animals, who intelligently raise their young and are not out to cause any harm. The mythical cunning merely explains their fantastic adaptability in what would otherwise be a bleak situation.
It is possible for them to share many characteristics with our pet dogs. An experiment called ‘Belyaev’s Foxes’ was set up by Russian scientist Dmitry Belyaev in the 1950’s. He selected wild silver foxes based on tameness and their approach to humans. This is the single only trait they had been selected for, and within 50 years as the population bred, changes in their physical appearance also started to occur.
The foxes developed floppy ears, curly tails, changes in fur colouration such as tabby patterns and white patches around the eye, changes began to show in their skull becoming ‘less wild’ and more feminine, and even their teeth became smaller.
Remember nothing was physically done to these foxes; a population was put together based on their initial ‘friendliness to humans’, i.e. those who came over to investigate and sniff and those who didn’t. Over the years these changes in morphology have occurred making them seeming more domesticated, more appealing to humans, more like our pet dogs, and all because they had an initial interest in us in the first place. Although a different species, it is undeniable that the possibility is there. Highly complex animals, remember that our wild red foxes definitely wouldn’t make good pets and shouldn’t be tamed.
Why not go fox spotting around your local wooded areas or keep an eye out in the garden to see what you can discover about our canine neighbours.
By Kirsty Grant
Read more about the animals in my life at https://wildscotplace.wordpress.com/