Fox – Vulpes vulpes
Habitat: Urban & gardens, rivers and wetland, coastal & marshland, deciduous woodland, mixed woodland, arable land.
Size: Average male 67-72cm, females 62-67cm; tail about 40cm
Weight: Average 6-7kg for males; 5-6kg for females.
Diet: Foxes have a very wide and varied diet. On salt marshes they eat crabs and dead seabirds, while in upland regions carrion may be important, particularly during the winter months. In lowland rural areas small mammals, especially field voles and rabbits, are the major source of food, with earthworms, beetles, fruit (particularly blackberries) and small birds also being eaten. Urban foxes glean large amounts of food, much of this deliberately supplied by local householders. This is supplemented by scavenging from dustbins, bird tables and compost heaps. Those living in some urban areas eat many small birds and feral pigeons.
Lifespan: Although up to 9 years old has been recorded in the wild, most survive only one to three years.
Origin & Distribution: A highly adaptable species, found across Britain, but absent from Scottish Islands (except Skye), in all habitats from salt marshes and sand dunes to the tops of mountains. In Britain, more so than elsewhere in Europe, foxes have also adapted to life in urban surroundings.
DEFRA Modelling: Current records available do not give us complete population numbers. The Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have used current presence data available for British mammals from the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) gateway (Mammal Society records contribute to this) to create UK maps showing the most suitable habitats for a species and predict population densities from these, as can be seen here for foxes. Find out more about this new research here.
Behaviour: Foxes hold territories, the size of which depends on habitat; they can be as small as 0.2 square kilometres in urban areas or up to 40 square kilometres in hill country. Each territory is occupied by a fox family group. These often consist of a pair (dog fox and vixen) and their cubs. However, in areas where foxes are not persecuted and where there is a plentiful supply of food, a family group may contain several adults.
Breeding: Usually only one vixen in a group produces cubs once a year in the spring. Litters average four to five cubs which are born blind and deaf in a den (called an earth). The earth may be dug by the foxes, 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 vixen stays in the earth with her cubs for the first two weeks of their lives. At about four weeks old, usually in late April or early May, cubs begin to come into the open.
Conservation Status: Foxes are not protected legally. For many years they were hunted for their fur, and as part of coutryside tradition. The Hunting Act 2004 outlawed hunting with dogs in England and Wales, from 18th February 2005. This also applies to the hunting of deer, hares and mink.
Red/orange fur with white muzzle, neck and belly. Legs and backs of ears dark brown/black. Long bushy tail with white tip, held horizontally. Size of small dog.
Download a printable field sign guide here!
Footprints: Tracks can be found in sand and mud (and snow) in farmland, grassland, woodland and urban areas. They are four-toed prints, and can be confused with domestic cat and dog. The key difference is that a diagonal cross can be drawn through the fox print and not through the dog and cat prints. Footprint width 3.5cm and length 5cm.
Footprints of a trotting fox usually form a straighter line than those of a dog and can be distinguished from dogs by drawing a line between outer and inner two toe pads, like this:
Droppings: Fox droppings are full of fur, bone fragments and often fruit pips. They are usually twisted, with a tapering ‘tail’ at one end. Variable size, approximately 8-12cm in length, 2cm in width. Colour: brown, black, grey. Smell: characteristic pungent smell.