Wildlife watch: Red fox
Whether you want to discover ways to help foxes or find out how to deter them from destroying your garden, Kate Bradbury takes a closer look at one of our most common garden visitors
A regular visitor to our gardens, especially in urban areas, red foxes are orange-red in colour with a white throat, belly and chin, and a white-tipped tail known as a brush. Exceptional scavengers, they eat a huge variety of food, from carrion to earthworms and even berries, which is how they have become so successful at living among us. However, they’re known for taking pet rabbits and chickens and their eggs, as well as for raiding bins. This, along with digging holes, nesting under sheds and flattening plants and toppling garden ornaments when playing, can cause conflict with the people they live among.
Mating takes place in January and February, with the female issuing a blood-curdling shriek and the male responding with a “hup-hup-hup”. Females give birth to up to seven pups, which are born brown or grey, usually turning to red within a month. Both parents look after the pups until the following autumn (around now), when the young foxes start to establish their own territories.
Fox territories can be as small as 0.2 square kilometres in urban areas or up to 40 square kilometres in more rural areas. Each territory is occupied by a family group, typically consisting of a dog fox and vixen, and their cubs. However, in areas where there is a a good supply of food, a family group may contain several adults.
How to help foxes
Foxes in urban areas don’t always have a balanced diet, which can increase the likelihood of them getting mange, a parasitic infection that causes intense itching and hair loss. Helping foxes can therefore include feeding them a protein-rich food like a whole hard boiled egg (in the shell) or chicken, to improve their diet. Mange treatment is also available to buy, which you can add to peanut butter sandwiches if you’re certain the same mange-infested fox will visit each night.
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Other ways to help foxes include being more tolerant of them in the garden. Respect their need for space and territory and understand that sometimes they will dig holes and make a mess.
How to deter foxes
If you're not so keen on having foxes in your garden, there are steps you can take, such as preventing access, and using so-called humane deterrents, such as motion activated water sprays. But these aren't guaranteed to work and any access you block up will also deny access to hedgehogs, which desperately need more access to more gardens.
I think the best option to dealing with foxes is to make your garden fox-proof. I think of this a little like toddler-proofing your house. Avoid placing breakable items such as pots where they can be knocked over. Anchor them to the ground so there's no need for foxes to play with them. When planting trees and shrubs, avoid using bone, fish or blood meal in the planting hole as foxes will naturally want to dig it up. Never leave shoes or Wellington boots out at night as at least one of them is bound to be picked up by a fox who will play with it for a while and won't necessarily leave it back where it found it.
We all have to share our land with wild animals and a mutual understanding of each others’ needs can help us to become better neighbours with those we sometimes find it hard to live with. Perhaps taking time to sit and watch the cubs playing could be the first step you take to learning to love those you share your garden with.