Inner city foxes tend to eat less caught prey than those in the suburbs, feeding more on scavenged food. The rich pickings that are available mean that urban foxes have smaller home ranges – typically about a tenth (10–100ha or 25–250 acres) of those in rural areas – and foxes have been known to commute, foraging in urban areas at night while spending the day out of town.
They are social animals, living in family groups of a breeding pair, together with cubs in the spring, and sometimes other subordinate juveniles and adults. These help with the rearing of cubs, feeding, grooming and playing with them. Each group occupies a territory and dens can be inside vacant or occupied buildings, often under floorboards, or under garden sheds. If necessary, foxes will dig extensive burrows (or ‘earths’), particularly in well-drained soils, choosing sites in overgrown gardens – in flowerbeds, rockeries or under tree roots – or cemeteries, under grave stones.
Foxes communicate with each other using a wide range of calls, facial expressions and body postures, as well as scent markings. Twelve adult and eight pup vocalisations have been identified and 28 groups of sounds described. Barks and loud contact calls of both sexes, particularly in the winter, include a blood-curdling ‘scream’.Smell and hearing are used to hunt and scavenge, probably using the latter to locate earthworms (a large part of their diet) as well as prey hidden in vegetation or snow.
Droppings (or ‘scats’) are left in conspicuous spots, such as on rockeries, around ponds and on patios, and fox urine has a distinctive musky odour.
To a minority of people, foxes are a nuisance, but for most, the sight of a wild carnivore or a litter of cubs, is a bonus. If you don’t want foxes in your garden, avoiding the use of fertilisers containing animal remains (such as fish or bonemeal), which can attract foxes or badgers) is sensible, and two safe, scent repellents, Scoot and Get Off My Garden, are available. Traditional repellents such as creosote, diesel and Renardine are hazards in themselves and should not be used.
Appearance and activity Foxes' bodies average 56-75cm in length, with up to 40cm tail as well.They weigh up to 9kg. In the summer, foxes lose the distinctive yellow-brown fur of their winter coat, appearing darker and scruffier while new, shorter fur grows through. Sometimes their bushy tail can be reduced to an almost furless vestige. The backs of their ears and front of their fore- and hindfeet are jet black. Foxes are active throughout the year and at any time during the day or night, but particularly so at dusk and dawn. During the day, they are sometimes seen sunning themselves on roofs.
Diet Foxes eat almost anything, rabbits, voles, earthworms and insects, and vegetable and fruirts in gardens. They are notorious scavengers from waste bins.
Status, population size and distribution Native, common and widespread. Hunting with dogs is illegal in England and Wales under the Hunting Act 2004 and is also illegal in Scotland. The GB population is about 225,000 (rural); 33,000 (urban); there are about 5000 adult foxes within the circle of the M25.
Nationally, there has been little change in the population over the last 10 years. Foxes are widely distributed in Britain and Ireland but are absent from all the Scottish islands, except Skye and Harris, and from the Scilly and Channel isles.
Stoats and weasels
Stoats and weasels are only rarely found in urban areas, but might be spotted at sites near to a rabbit warren or around grain or timber stores that support thriving populations of small mammals. Stoats and weasels are well adapted to pursuing prey into burrows: they have a sleek, sinuous shape and are exceptionally inquisitive. They are fierce predators and will kill and carry prey much larger than themselves, but are graceful and extraordinary animals to watch.