Reddish orange fur, small dog sized; thick bushy tail in winter
Head/body length: average 67-72cm for males; 62-67cm for females; tail about 40cm
Weight: average 6-7kg for males; 5-6kg for females.
A highly adaptable species, found in nearly all habitats from salt marshes and sand dunes to the tops of mountains. In Britain, more than elsewhere in Europe, foxes have also adapted to life in urban surroundings.
Foxes hold territories, the size of which depends on habitat; they can be as small as 0.2 square kilometres in urban areas or up to 40 square kilometres in hill country. Each territory is occupied by a fox family group. These often consist of a pair - dog fox and vixen - and their cubs. However, in areas where foxes are not persecuted and where there is a plentiful supply of food, a family group may contain several adults.
Foxes have a very wide and varied diet. On salt marshes they eat crabs and dead seabirds, while in upland regions carrion may be important, particularly during the winter months. In lowland rural areas small mammals, especially field voles and rabbits, are the major source of food, with earthworms, beetles, fruit (particularly blackberries) and small birds also being eaten.
Urban foxes glean large amounts of food. Much of this is deliberately supplied by local householders, and is supplemented by scavenging from dustbins, birdtables and compost heaps. Unlike rural foxes, those living in some urban areas eat many small birds and feral pigeons.
Usually only one vixen in a group produces cubs, once a year in the spring. Litters average four to five cubs which are born blind and deaf in a den (called an earth). The earth may be dug by the foxes, or they may enlarge a rabbit burrow or use holes made by other animals. In urban areas cubs are often born under garden sheds. A vixen stays in the earth with her cubs for the first two weeks of their lives. At about four weeks old, usually in late April or early May, cubs begin to come into the open, when they are often seen by city householders.
Foxes generally do not live very long; although they have been recorded up to nine years old in the wild, most survive only one or two years.
Foxes have little legal protection. In some areas they are subjected to much persecution including shooting, hunting, being snared and dug out with terriers and caught with lurchers (fast, long-legged dogs). Self-locking snares and gin traps, both of which were once used to catch foxes, have been outlawed. Free running snares are legal, but they must be inspected at least once a day. These humanitarian provisions are the sole protection received by foxes.
Despite their lack of protection foxes are widespread and abundant. The success of the fox is due to its adaptability and it is in no need of active conservation measures. There remain about 190 fox hunts in England and Wales, but these probably kill a small proportion of foxes compared to those captured in snares and killed by other means. In the early 1980s many foxes were killed each year for their fur, most of which was exported to West Germany. However, with the decline in fur prices, this trade has decreased substantially.
Where can I get a fox as a pet?
You should not try to keep a fox. Although appealing, small cubs grow rapidly and soon become unsuitable as pets. They are then too tame to be returned to the wild.
Why do foxes kill all the hens in a roost?
This is a phenomenon called surplus killing. It is a strategy whereby foxes kill excess prey when it is abundant, and then bury (cache) it for use on days when food is short. It is not a "blood lust".
Can I feed the foxes in my garden?
Yes, they take most household scraps, old meat bones and so on. They will soon become very tame and be easy and enjoyable to watch.
Do foxes kill lambs?
Yes, but generally very few. Studies have shown that most lambs eaten are still-born or sickly, and that losses to foxes are very much lower than losses to other causes such as bad weather.
Corbet G.B. & Harris S. (1991) The Handbook of British Mammals. (3rd edn.). Blackwell, Oxford.
Harris S. (1986) Urban Foxes. Whittet Books, London.
Harris S. & Macdonald D. (1987) Orphaned Foxes. RSPCA, Horsham, Sussex.
Harris S. (1994) The Red Fox. The Mammal Society, London.