by Charlotte Owen
This year’s fox cubs are now starting to emerge from their dens to explore the world above ground. They were born in March and may have been moved by their mother between several different den sites to keep them safe and well fed. Urban vixens will often den under garden sheds and can squeeze through surprisingly small gaps, of less than 10cm, to reach a convenient sheltered spot. If there isn’t a ready-made home, vixens will dig out an extensive earth in well-drained soil, sometimes in a flowerbed, under tree roots or beneath a dense hedgerow. They don’t indulge in any creature comforts, and cubs are usually born onto bare earth without any bedding material. The average litter size is four or five cubs, which are born blind and deaf with a coat of short, black fur. They are completely reliant on their mother’s milk and warmth for the first two weeks of their lives, and she’ll rarely leave them unattended during this period. She, in turn, relies on the dog fox to hunt and bring food for her, and he is sometimes assisted by a number of non-breeding females, often daughters from previous years.
Fox cubs open their eyes and ears at two weeks and start crawling around the den, very wobbly at first but soon developing enough strength and coordination to frustrate their mother by wandering off in different directions. At four weeks, they start venturing outside the den but don’t go far. They are still a dark, chocolatey brown but are beginning to moult into their adult coat, and can look quite patchy.
By six weeks the transformation is complete and their short ears and snub noses have elongated into distinctively foxy faces. At this age, fox cubs are boisterous and bound about with their siblings, playing, chasing and wrestling just like typical puppies. Cubs living in close proximity to people often ‘steal’ things to play with including shoes, gardening gloves, laundry, golf balls and sponges. They soon grow out of this behaviour though, becoming increasingly self-sufficient throughout the summer months until they are almost indistinguishable from their parents by September.