(Updated for 2012!)
Are these urban foxes?
They are indeed — well, “suburban” if you want to be fussy, but not in a rural setting, in any case. We’re just outside London in an area with largish gardens, a railway line (and its associated embankment covered in undergrowth) nearby, and a large park/open space about a quarter of a mile away as the crow flies.
Where are they living?
As far as we know, their den is under our shed. The people from whom we bought this house installed the shed, and were keen to encourage wildlife; they left a bit of a hole under the shed for foxes or hedgehogs. (We do wonder how large the hole is, now. If the shed disappears into a pit, I suppose we’ll find out…)
Do they breed in your garden every year?
Not to our knowledge. It’s not at all unusual for us to see adult foxes in the garden, either sunning themselves or just passing through, but we think 2010 is the first year we had cubs in residence. (Foxy Lady works from home so would probably have spotted them by now.) And we were lucky enough to have cubs again in 2011, and we have them again in 2012.
How many are there?
There are two adult foxes — at least one of them is female, and she is the one we see with the cubs most often — and four cubs. We thought there were only two to start off with, and then the overnight video revealed first three and then four. Now they’re all happy to come out and play (or find food) on the lawn.
We have a pair of adult foxes — Mr Fox is being a lot more paws-on than last year’s male! — and two cubs. We are fairly sure that there are only two this year, as we have seen Mrs Fox feeding them outside several times, and if there were other cubs in the den they would be losing out on their share of the food.
We have six (!) cubs this year. We have the same pair of adult foxes as last year, Mr and Mrs Fox, but they also have another vixen — we think slightly younger — helping them, who we have christened “Aunty Fox”. This does happen, but usually it is a female cub from the previous year’s litter who stays on to help out. However, both last year’s cubs were male… so we’re not really sure where this one has come from!
Ah yes, food. So are you feeding them?
Being suckers for small furry creatures, yes, we are. This is unlikely to last forever, as the cubs grow up and should start hunting for themselves eventually. We put out some food for them late in the afternoon or early in the evening.
What are you feeding them?
There has been some experimentation to try to find something that the foxes will eat and our cats won’t. (We have two cats and one of them could really do with not having any more sources of food.)
They like cheese and meat; they’re quite keen on cheap supermarket sausages. (Foxy Lady was less keen when the cats started bringing the bits of sausage back through the cat flap. Oh, mighty hunters…) We’ve also just acquired some “chub” dog food (the sort that comes in sausages that you slice up) and will see how they like that; it is apparently very popular with people feeding foxes.
At the moment they are getting chub dog food, cheese and peanuts. There are also occasional table scraps or time-expired packets of bacon; whatever’s appropriate and handy, really.
The cheese and chub dog food continues, but we haven’t been feeding them peanuts this year. (No particular reason, we just happened not to have any to hand.)
Have you named the cubs?
No. They’re very similar (and fast-moving!) and it would be too distressing (at least for Foxy Lady) should one or more of them not make it.
Are you kidding? Telling them apart’s tricky enough with six! There is one who is quite recognisable, Runty McRunterson (well, perhaps Runty McRuntersdottir would be better since she is female). She is very much smaller than the rest of the cubs but appears to be feeding well, active, and able to hold her end up in games of chase and pounce — though she does seem to get pounced on with some regularity.
Tell us about the technology.
The videos are taken with an infrared motion-sensitive video camera. It records to a standard SD card and has a rechargeable battery (for which we also have a spare). It has a bank of infrared LEDs which it uses to illuminate the night scenes. It can take video (of varying lengths) or still photos, but we generally leave it set to video mode. Foxy Lady swaps out the storage card each morning.
The still photos are taken with a Canon DSLR with a (very) long lens. Foxy Lady wishes the foxes would come out a bit earlier in the day when the light was better!
Do you catch anything else on video?
Certainly; cats — ours or occasional interlopers, birds of varying types, and overnight we have occasionally seen hedgehogs. Pigeons seem particularly keen on getting into fights on camera.
You have cats? What do they think of the foxes?
Both sides seem to have negotiated a truce, and there’s a timeshare agreement going on. The cats tend to get first call on the garden during the day — and may occasionally be seen near the house watching the foxes later on in the afternoon — and the foxes usually have it to themselves overnight because we keep the cats indoors at that point. We’ve not seen any close interaction between cats and foxes, and neither do we expect to at this point. Our cats may not be the brightest of felines, but the cubs are now as big or bigger than they are, and Mrs Fox would definitely not take kindly to interference with her offspring.
There have been occasional face-offs between the cats and the foxes in the past, but the cats seem to be aware of the cubs’ existence — or, at least, that the adult foxes are not going to take kindly to feline encroachment — and are largely steering clear of that end of the garden.
The cat/fox situation hasn’t materially changed from last year. There are occasional bouts of feigned indifference between the cats and the adult foxes.
Your garden is a bit of a mess, isn’t it?
We prefer to think of it as “a wildlife reserve” and “not wanting to disturb the foxes”