Dear Readers, you might recognise this fox from a few days ago, when I was waxing lyrical about how pretty she was. Sadly, all the local foxes also seem to think that she’s pretty, as the amount of fox-action in my street last night was really something to hear. It started before dark, and at 10 a.m. this morning I saw three very fine foxes chasing one another up the road. I went to the shed to put out some bird food and yet another fox brushed against my legs as it bolted past. Don’t these critters ever sleep?
My go-to book for information on foxes is ‘Fox-Watching’ by Martin Hemmington, and he has a very useful month-by-month guide to the behaviour of foxes. As I suspected, January is the peak month not only for mating, but also for dispersal of last year’s youngsters from the territory of their parents. All this makes for an extremely noisy and messy month. Both females and males will double-down on marking their territories – the urine of the females will attract the dog foxes, and the males will want to make sure that their boundaries are secure.
Hemmington points out that as most foxes are solo at this point, they use vocal means to communicate. And don’t they just! The ‘scream’ that was once thought to only be made by vixens is actually made by both sexes in order to attract a mate, and all the youngsters will also be trying to find someone to partner up with for the first time. There’s also that ‘contact call’ – around here, it’s usually three barks, but there’s one individual fox that makes four short ‘arf-arf-arf-arf’ calls.
If you aren’t familiar with the sounds made by red foxes (though I suspect most of you already are), you can hear a fine variety of screams and barks in the video below, along with some howling and an occasional owl. I’ve never heard a fox howling around here, but I guess they live so close together that it’s not worth the effort.
You don’t get a whole lot of ‘gekkering’ at this time of year – I associate this much more with foxes playing, and January is a serious month. Here’s what it sounds like, though, courtesy of Paul Cecil. There’s also a very interesting article about fox communication in general here.
So, I suspect that I and my neighbours are in for a few more weeks of disturbed sleep, but Hemmington assures us that by later in February the vixens will be pregnant and the males will be taking it easy prior to the birth of the cubs. The gestation period for foxes is 53 days, so if you happen upon any foxes ‘in the act’ you can probably date when the cubs will be born with some accuracy.
I’ve never actually seen any tiny cubs, but I do remember some very lovely gawky youngsters…here’s a selection from St Pancras and Islington Cemetery. And roll on spring!