Foxes, ferocious foe or furry friend - fascinating facts - Jenny Prince, Volunteer

Credit: Bertie Gregory/2020VISION

Our second most popular web page is on foxes - so we've gathered fascinating facts, myths and advice on these clever creatures.
Urban foxes

Credit: Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Last week, we explored the world of the garden nemesis the slug. This week, we have an equally controversial animal that divides opinion across the country: the fox.

Decades ago, you would have been lucky to see a fox out in the countryside, but since the Second World War, foxes have been crossing the border from country to city. As suburban houses started to populate Britain with large gardens and sheds perfect for making dens, foxes branched out into this new habitat and eventually made their way to the bright lights of the city. Maybe not for fame and fortune, but for a place to live and the occasional easy meal. Fox dens are difficult to find, and are often under sheds, or even in roofs, but if you look out your window at night you may be fortunate enough to see the striking red coat and long bushy tail of the fox as it goes about its business.

For some, the success of the fox in urban environments is not celebrated, and the mammal is sometimes considered as a pest. Here are a few explanations for some of those naughty foxy behaviours.

Foxes are easily adaptable, which is one of the reasons they are so successful in our cities. They will eat many species found in your garden such as earthworms and beetles, as well as small birds and feral pigeons. Fruits and berries are on their menu too, and a rat will not be passed up as a tasty meal either. However, foxes are seen as pests in our cities for scavenging food scraps from our bins and making a mess in the process. Nevertheless, let’s give them a break; if you were hungry and had to hunt for your own food, chances are you wouldn’t give up the chance for an easy meal would you? Also, if possible, limiting food waste and making sure it is secure will also help.

Fox scavenging in bin

Credit: Terry Whittaker/2020VISION

Some would consider themselves lucky to have a fox come into their garden, but others do not appreciate their lawns being trampled and dug up. Whilst there is little you can do to stop a fox entering your garden (they can jump on top of walls and fences, much like a cat) garden centres do sell repellents which could help your situation. You can also take note from this advice leaflet from Birmingham City Council. Of course you could always use the traditional human male urinating round the edges of the garden to deter them (in an urban setting it may be wise to decant into a bottle and pour in garden to avoid misunderstandings). Alternately, Radio4 is rumoured to deter the beasts (Yes really).

Another myth that turns people against foxes is that they think they will kill for fun. If you keep chickens or guinea pigs, you may have unfortunately been the victim of a lost pet to a fox. Foxes will generally ignore cats and dogs, and will only attack to defend themselves, which also goes for interactions with humans. If a fox has killed all your chickens, chances are it was hoping to come back and cache the rest to eat later, and therefore has not killed your chickens for the fun of it. You can take precautions to keep your outdoor pets safe, such as making sure pens and cages are kept in a secure environment, and stay away from using chicken wire as a fox can easily break this.

Fox in daffodils

Credit: Bertie Gregory/2020Vision

Next, we come to that piercing scream that comes during winter. Out of all the noises foxes use to communicate this is the most chilling, and it almost always features in British crime dramas set in the countryside (if you hadn’t noticed that yet, you will now). This noise typically comes from the vixen, and is more romantic than you would have thought. The female fox will use this sound to attract dog foxes during the mating season. Male foxes will also make loud shrieks to declare their territory against rivals. So next time you’re kept awake by the fearful screams, just think about the cute cubs that inevitably follow…

There are many misunderstood urban fox behaviours, which you can learn more about here.

Whether you see the fox as a cute and cuddly staple of British wildlife, a pest that runs riot through the streets or a cunning children’s book character, we should learn to live alongside this animal and celebrate the fact we can come to close to our British wildlife, here in the city. 

Quick facts:
Latin name: Vulpes vulpes
Female: Vixen
Male: Dog
Young: Cubs
Home: Den or Earth
Family: Related to the dog family