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The Magic Of Foxes

  • Sat 19th Dec, 2020

Mid-winter is a great time to look out for one of our most charismatic and magical mammals the Red Fox. With a bit of luck, the first dusting of snow could make this search even more exciting!

Red Fox © Steve RaceRed Fox © Steve Race

The Red Fox mating season, typically extends from December to February. At this time of year Foxes of both sexes may be seen ranging around in daylight in search of mates. It’s the best time of year to listen out for their sounds. There are five types of calls categorised into a whine, moo, cackle, growl or bark. I remember the first time I learnt these word tags I started listening more carefully to try to work out which Fox sound I was hearing.

Red Fox footprints © Dan LombardRed Fox footprints © Dan Lombard

Learning how to recognise their footprints is another step towards tracking your local Foxes. The print has four toes like a domestic dog, but the overall shape is more extended and vertical than a dog. The top two toes are further forward and more elongated in Fox. For a more detailed view of how to separate the two prints click here.

The great thing about searching for Foxes is how it involves all our senses. With a bit of practise, you can catch the distinctive musky smell on the breeze indicating a Fox has recently passed close by. A recent scientific study confirmed the same chemicals are in the tail glands of a Red Fox as in many woodland plants. The floral scent within the upper part of a Foxes tail is sometimes known as the ‘violet gland’ because the smell is very similar to the scent of violets. This link is fascinating and led the scientists to the conclusion Red Foxes seek out and eat woodland Violets to create their characteristic scent signal used in communication.

Red Fox Norfolk © Richard BainesRed Fox Norfolk © Richard Baines

Many of us will have a favourite Red Fox encounter. Mine was at Lakenheath RSPB reserve in Norfolk on the 27th May 2007. I was walking with friends along the main public path when we all noticed a brightly coloured Red Fox trotting without concern towards us. This was exciting enough but then we noticed she was carrying something in her mouth.

Red Fox Norfolk © Richard BainesRed Fox Norfolk © Richard Baines

Through binoculars we worked out it was a mole. Luckily, I had my camera with me, after looking closely at the photos later in the day we realised it was not one mole but at least two moles! She walked carefully past us undoubtedly heading for her den with this tasty meal for her cubs. We all felt so lucky to have witnessed this bit of Fox magic.

Richard Baines

Yorkshire Coast Nature