By Charlotte Owen
Last night there were definitely two shoes outside the back door but this morning there is only one, and it’s been half-buried in a nearby flowerpot. A punctured football has appeared behind the shed and the car-washing sponge, left out to dry, has been ripped into yellow confetti and scattered over the grass. If you’ve been noticing curious incidents in the garden at night-time, you’ve probably been visited by fox cubs.
Born in March, they started life as little balls of black fluff with their eyes and ears still closed to the world. Urban cubs are often born under a garden shed or similar outbuilding, which provides an ideal ready-made home. Vixens can squeeze through surprisingly small gaps to access these areas and will enlarge them to their liking in preparation for the new arrivals. They don’t bother with any bedding though and the cubs are born onto bare earth, typically four or five in a litter but sometimes up to 12. They are completely reliant on their mother’s milk and warmth for the first two weeks of their lives, so she rarely leaves them unattended. Staying hidden underground, she relies on her mate to hunt and bring her food while she keeps constant guard.
The cubs open their eyes at two weeks and begin a wobbly exploration of the den. At four weeks they’ll venture outside for the first time, still a dark, chocolatey brown but beginning to moult into their adult coat and often looking quite patchy. By six weeks the transformation is complete and their short ears and snub noses have elongated into distinctively foxy faces.
They are now old enough to explore the garden with gusto. Boisterous and inquisitive, they bound about with their siblings, playing, chasing and wrestling like typical puppies. Anything left outside overnight is fair game, from gardening gloves to laundry, and these discovered ‘toys’ will be tossed, tugged, chewed and buried for safekeeping. They will eventually grow out of this behaviour over the summer months as they become increasingly self-sufficient, and by September the cubs will be almost indistinguishable from their parents.