London’s Foxes

Family feuds, gang wars and illicit affairs – the urban fox might only live for a maximum of five years but they pack a lot in.

We tend to only see only one fox at a time, normally a streak of light brown across an empty street. But London’s foxes live in extended family groups and, although they hunt alone, each territory can be shared by up to 10 adults.

Within the group there is a strict dominance hierarchy that rules much of their lives. Usually it is only the dominant vixen that has cubs. She will sometimes tolerate other litters and these “extra” cubs can even be reared with her own. At less convenient times, however, she will kill them.

Stuck in the breeding earth for several weeks it is other members of the group that bring the vixen food. Male foxes are renowned for being “devoted fathers” and they are, if a little misguided.  Foxes have such complicated sex lives that it is difficult for a dog fox to know which of the cubs are his. As a result all of the group’s males act as if they’re the father, helping to guard and provision the cubs as if they were all their own.

Some of her cubs are usually sired by the alpha male who, although he also mates with subordinate females, focuses his attentions on the dominant vixen. When it comes to outside the social circle, however, any fox is fair game regardless of rank. In fact most of the cubs in a litter will be sired by dog foxes from neighbouring families. It’s easy to know when a vixen is on the prowl for neighbouring mates.  That harsh unearthly scream you sometimes hear in the dead of night? If it happens in winter, it’s probably a vixen calling out for her neighbours.

At the moment we are in the middle of baby season. Mid-March is when most cubs are born, although it’ll be another four weeks before they see the light of day. Things aren’t all cosy for the cubs however – 20% of them die underground. One of the reasons is that dominance begins to be fought over in the den.  It is dominant cubs that are given more food, grow faster and are more likely stay in the social group once they’ve reached adulthood. The “play fights” can therefore be vicious and some cubs get killed in them. Once everyone has learnt their place things tend to calm down and although the foxes may meet for only a few minutes in a day, strong social bonds form between group members.

Each gang defends a territory typically extending across 80 of our gardens and scent-marking happens every night to warn off rival groups. London is split into fox sized territories, not only do our sheds make good dens but our streets make the perfect highways, even our busiest roads are used to delineate between territories. There is a parallel world right on our doorstep and in the midst of our humanity is another species busily making the city their own.

5 thoughts on “London’s Foxes

  1. Hi, we have a fox family with their den under our garden shed. During January I actually saw the vixen mating with the dog fox in the middle of my lawn. I knew then we’d have a family. She seemingly had 4 cubs and earl in April she was out in the sunshine at the end of the garden feeding them, sooo cute, I have loads of pictures. Last week there appeared to be only three so either one has met with an untimely end or they are getting ready to leave. They play fight and jump on anything that moves,they are hilarious. I feel quite privileged to have seen them from tiny little grey furry bundles to individual characters, the smallest of the litter seems to be the most adventurous. I spend at least an hour every morning just watching, it’s great. They are out there now but it’s too dark to see them now and I didn’t see them this morning!

    • Hi Linda,
      Fox cubs are adorable! Would be great to see some of your pictures of them.
      I would feel priviledged too if they were messing around in my garden.

  2. Hi
    Helped to rescue a fox hit by a car at 9am on Farringdon Road. Such a busy road and no drivers seeming to care that the animal was still alive but badly injured. Unfortunately the fox died after 20 minutes but at least it was “comfortable” off the road.
    Why are foxes running about during daylight hours?
    Good to see it wasn’t mangey as most we see are.
    Very sad experience.

  3. Hi Linda,

    I’m currently working on a television documentary about urban foxes and we are looking for known urban fox dens to film at in spring this year. If your foxes are still with you it would be great to have a chat with you to see if you would be interested in getting involved.

    If you are interested then you can send me an e-mail at fox@windfallfilms.com, or give me a call on 020 7251 7670

    Best wishes, Kelly

  4. the first one is a work by ‘Edgar Leciejewski’ … i couldn’t find it on its page but we stduied together and it has been a part of one end of year exhibition … can’t remember the titlerike

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