NATURE NOTES - Fantastic Mr Fox?

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GRIEF but it’s been cold! It fell to minus two the other night and then we have snow again, which just about did it for our flowers that got lulled into thinking that spring was about to sprung. One good thing about a nice covering of snow is the tracks that are left as a clue to what has gone on during the night and the half light. Birds wings leave a particularly good imprint where they have landed and then hopped around for a while before taking to flight again.

The best was the fox tracks though – very easy to distinguish once you know the difference between them and dog tracks. He had had a good wander around the cottage looking for something to eat – thankfully our wheelie bins are just too big for him to knock. When we had the small bins it was a regular thing to wake up to an overturned bin with its contents strewn all over the garden.

Foxes are now a common sight in all our cities and towns, I regularly get calls from people who have had foxes ‘move in’ and with the unfortunate events of late this can be quite worrying for some people – until I tell them that they have more chance of winning the lottery than being attacked by a fox!

The life of a red fox begins with the courtship of its parents, in December of the year before its birth. At this time, most foxes will travel in pairs or threes. Mating takes place most commonly between mid-December and mid-February, although it can be as late as March or even early April.

About two thirds of matings take place in January, though that figure can be different in different areas. The cubs are born 52-53 days after mating, so the majority of foxes bear their cubs in March. When the cubs are round about five weeks old, they begin to discover the world outside the earth. Weaning takes place at this time, so the parents bring back prey for the cubs to eat.

Later in the summer the cubs learn to hunt for themselves, and their parents will provide less food and spend less time at the earth. The cubs range farther from the earth as they grow older, hunting for themselves but remaining in the territory of their parents.

Of the 5 to 6 cubs born to an average fox litter, usually 2 or 3 survive. This juvenile mortality is higher in areas where foxes are controlled; this results in a population made up from younger foxes. Interestingly, this is the only noticeable effect that fox control has on a fox population; it has been shown that the level of control does not affect numbers of foxes.