Love them or hate them foxes are part of the intricate hierarchy of wildlife in and around or gardens. Often branded vermin, they are actually part of the wildlife of the UK and are not officially classed as pests.
If you’ve lost your hens to the fox then understandably you may be among the haters of these creatures. I too have had my hens taken by a hungry vixen desperate to feed her cubs and I was of course devastated by their loss. But when you take a few moments to understand the struggles and ways of the fox and you may be less quick to judge.
Foxes are very closely related to man’s best friend the dog. Just like Fido burying his bones, a fox will bury its prey after a kill. Foxes can and do run amok with chickens, killing in an apparent wanton pattern. They usually collect the fallen birds and bury them, like a dog buries a bone, to create a cache of food for their family. If disturbed during the massacre or subsequent harvest/collection they will abandon the site leaving the carnage behind. It is this scene of devastation that leaves poultry owners bereft, but hard as it sounds, it is part of nature and unless we are able to securely barricade our chooks in a fox-proof corral and safely lock them in at night, the wily fox will always take advantage of this easy source of food. The shrewd fox doesn’t miss a trick and the one night you forget to put your hens to bed, it will strike. It patrols its territory regularly searching for the weakest link in the perimeter fence, an open hen house or gate, discarded food and any passing prey, grasping every opportunity for a fast food fix. While foxes get a bad name in suburbia these secret and mysterious creatures are excellent pest controllers feasting on rats and pigeons and rabbits, all of which are genuine problems in gardens large and small.
Foxes are generally nocturnal, they do not hunt in packs and are territorial in their habits, often living as solitary creatures or as part of a breeding pair.
Foxes will just about eat anything: beetles, worms, birds, mammals, fruit, seeds, nuts and discarded food. With their countryside habitat under threat they have settled in towns and cities too, where they survive on a mixed diet of scavenged food taken from refuse sacks, rats and mice, garden insects, bulbs and carelessly discarded food waste. Most foxes are too small to knock over a wheelie bin, but they can flip an unsecured lid and will rip apart discarded rubbish in their search for food.
Adults mate in the winter and cubs are born in early spring, often the male will help to feed the female while she nurtures their cubs. By autumn the cubs are fully grown and are dispersed from the den to make their own way. And so the cycle begins again. Their haunting, nocturnal shrieking sound marks the winter mating season.
In the depths of winter I sometimes see a hungry fox patrol my garden in broad daylight, from my office window. She keeps the rats, that are never far from my chicken pen, under control and is a beautiful, elegant creature that deserves greater understanding. I look forward to welcoming her cubs to my patch to roll and play with abandon. Who needs Pokémon GO when you can watch real, live garden wildlife?