Last Christmas I gave my husband what I hoped was an inspired Christmas gift, a wildlife camera for the garden. And, as it turned out, inspired it was. Since January, we have been treated to lots of images and video of hedgehogs, cats, frogs ….and my favourite, foxes.
I don’t know why I am so attracted to foxes but I absolutely adore them. They are stunning to look at for sure, but they also always seem to have a quiet air of desperation that makes me sad. I think they are beautiful. Catching a glimpse as they run across a field or catch sight of one on an inner city road, eyes shining like streetlights, seeing a fox is a wonderful sight. It’s like a flash of wildness, there one minute and gone the next.
Urban foxes are hugely common in this country and, wherever you live, and whether you are aware or not, you are likely to have a foxy visitor in your garden from time to time.
When we showed these pictures to family members, I have to admit there was some anxiety: “Don’t encourage them – they eat cats!” DO foxes eat cats? I sincerely hope not. Just in case Mr Fox is eyeing up either of mine, we have been putting cat food out for him which he seems to like (and hopefully prefer.)
Apparently foxes have very varied diet, Urban foxes eat earthworms, insects, fruit and vegetables and a wide variety of both domestic wild birds and mammals. Insects include large numbers of beetles, cut worms (the larvae of noctuid moths, which they get off lawns on wet nights), and both larval and adult craneflies. Most of the birds they eat are feral pigeons and small garden birds, and the most frequently eaten mammals are generally field voles, abundant on allotments, railway lines and other grassy areas. However, much as I like him, I am not about to start catching birds for him so what can humans give foxes?
“Virtually anything. Being carnivores, they like cooked or raw meat and tinned pet food. (Thumbs up for the cat food then). Foxes also like other savoury items such as cheese, table scraps, bread soaked in fat, fruit and cooked vegetables. However, be aware that anything you put out for foxes could equally be taken by dogs, cats and other wildlife.”
The National Fox Welfare Society suggests that it is fine to feed foxes in your garden, but understand that if you do they will become used to the feeding, and return regularly. The Society maintains they get a plentiful supply of food from scavenging and supplement that with all the delighted homeowners like me who are only too willing to give them a treat.
The foxes we have seen recently are visiting our garden at night, but a couple of years ago we caught sight of this fox in the daytime in our garden and I took these pictures. I was worried about him as it’s not usual to see them in the day, so gave him some bbq left overs which went down a treat.
Fascinated as I am, thought I should do a bit of reading up on foxes, (particularly on the cat issue as I’m very fond of my cats, and wouldn’t be keen on Mr Fox devouring either of them.)
So do they kill cats? It’s possible but highly unlikely. A typical urban fox home range can be occupied by upwards of 100 cats, and most of these are out at night. Foxes and cats meet many times every night, and invariably ignore each other. When a fight does break out, it’s often the fox that comes off worse in the encounter. This doesn’t surprise me given that my tiny brown Burmese was once famously spotted chasing a Fox, (which was about 4 times her size) out of the garden though, to be fair, she was a lot younger then.
A bit more foxy info for you: There are an estimated 258,000 adult foxes in urban and rural Britain. They generally can expect to live for about 2-4 years though they can live up to 10 years. Foxes are a member of the dog family and a group of foxes is called a leash. Although they are a member of the dog family, they have far more in common with the cat: Foxes can retract their claws (like cats) and they have vertical pupils as do cats. They also pounce on prey like cats do and like to have a play with it before the kill.
The screaming and barking sounds made by foxes are usually mainly heard in the mating season in January and February, They only attack when in fear of being attacked and will normally shy away from humans and larger animals.
There have been horror stories in the press about foxes entering homes and biting babies but these events are extremely rare (and the cynical would say are much more likely to have been perpetrated by dogs.)
Reading up on Mr Fox also made me think about the traditional literary image of the clever fox who outwits its predators. According to Lucy Jones, author of Foxes Unearthed, it is likely that you will have a strong view about foxes be it either ‘love or loathing’. Of course this is largely due to the fox hunting debate which rages on but the image of the fox as a cunning untrustworthy animal goes back a long way in our culture.
“Never trust a fox. Looks like a dog, behaves like a cat.” Into the Wild, Erin Hunter
In the epic 12th century poem Reynard the Fox is a crafty and persuasive liar, the fox is also central to Aesop’s fables dating from about AD500 and is depicted as cunning and manipulative. Although The term “foxy” can denote attractiveness or being sexy, in most cultures going back to the dawn of story telling, the fox is a tricky, sly and deceitful creature. Which I think is a bit of a shame. My Mr Fox doesn’t look in the least deceitful. He just looks a bit desperate ( he may be manipulating me of course) and I’m going to welcome him into my garden for as long as he likes. Cats or no cats.