Dorset’s red foxes
Jenny Elliott captures the rough and tumble of the life of the bane of the poultry keeper
Published in September ’14
A red fox is very resourceful and adaptable. Love them or hate them a fox in prime condition is a very beautiful animal. It is equally at home in an urban environment as it is in the country. The country foxes are usually more wary of humans and avoid them if at all possible. Understandably, they are the bane of a poultry keeper’s life. My grandfather, a poultry keeper, was definitely not a fan. If a fox gains entry to a hen enclosure it will not be happy until it has killed them all. My grandfather kept quite a large number of poultry and, inevitably, there would be occasional fatalities. Unbeknownst to my grandfather, my grandmother would take the dead chickens and place them outside the foxes’ den across the field. Having had five children herself she said she knew how difficult it was to keep the family fed so her sympathies were with the vixen struggling to feed her cubs.
A fox is an opportunist and will take advantage of any available food. They are omnivores and will eat fruits and berries in addition to small mammals such as rabbits, squirrels and mice. Also consumed are a large number of insects; crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars and beetles are all fair game.
Foxes mate during the winter months, which is when we hear their unearthly shrieks during the hours of darkness, quite an unnerving sound to anyone not knowing its source. The vixen gives birth in the spring to anything between two and ten pups, she will stay in the earth with her cubs until they are about two weeks old. The litters I have been lucky enough to spot have had an average of about four pups. The dog fox is relied upon at this time to provide food for the vixen.
When fox cubs are born they can be brown, grey or black. The adult red-coloured coat has usually grown by the end of the first month. Coat colours can vary greatly, different shades of brown, gold or red and very occasionally silver or black.
The cubs’ eyes open at ten to fourteen days. At about four to five weeks they begin to come out of the earth to play and explore. They will fight quite ferociously from an early age to establish their social position.
The vixen will bring small, live prey back to her den so that the cubs can practise hunting. During October and November most of the young dog foxes and some of the vixens leave their home territory to try to establish territories of their own. Whilst they are migrating from their home areas, many are killed by cars and sometimes dogs through inexperience of life. Many die of cold or starvation during hard winters. It is estimated that about fifty per cent of foxes die in their first year without having had a chance to breed and that eighty per cent die before they are three years old. In captivity they can live up to fifteen years.
All in all a fox’s life is not an easy one. ◗