January is mid-mating season for foxes.
Foxes hold territories, the size of which depends on the habitat’s resources; in town a fox’s territory can be as small as a quarter of a square kilometre but in the open spaces of Salisbury Plain it could be forty square kilometres The park is balanced between urban and rural, not quite either, a hunting ground for at least one local vulpine family group.
A fox family group usually consists of a pair, a dog and a vixen, and their cubs. In areas where foxes are not dispersed by hunting or trapping, and where there is a plentiful supply of food, a family group also may contain several non-breeding adults.
Foxes mate between December and February; established pairings are reinforced and new ones made in sometimes very noisy courtships. Foxes are usually silent creatures but at this time of year, males bark in a distinctive three yips:
Dog fox barking; audio from angelfire.com
and the vixens make spine-chilling screams, the stuff of horror movies and bad dreams:
Vixen screaming: audio from angelfire.com
Usually only one vixen in the family group breeds; she has a litter of four of five cubs in the spring. The earth in which the cubs are born may be dug by the family, or they may enlarge a rabbit burrow or use holes made by other animals. In urban areas, cubs are often born under garden sheds; a garden is usually as safe a space for the vixen’s offspring as it is for yours.
fox cubs by Ray Bird (CC BY-SA 2.0)
At about four weeks old, usually in late April or early May, cubs begin to come out into the open. This is the best time to see foxes; the adults are too busy to supervise and the cubs are boisterous and unafraid.
As always, we will keep watch in the park but if you know of a pair of foxes settling into your neighbourhood, please tell us.
Header picture: Fox by Peter Trimming (CC BY 2.0)