Category Archives: Wildlife

Samples of wildlife photography

More on the fox cubs

The fox cubs are growing up (slowly), and I’m beginning to get a pattern of behaviour. There’s one cub in particular (a male) who follows Wolfy around a lot. The others seem more reticent so although I know there are at least four cubs, as you can see here, generally there is only one or two in the garden at the same time.

Wolfy with four of her fox cubs – (photo 29/4/2019)

Two fox cubs playing chase

There is one particular cub (a young male) who tends to be the boldest, and who follows Wolfy around a lot. Most of the recent photos are of him.

Keeping close to Mum

A rare daylight visit

Wolfy, meanwhile is working very hard to look after her brood. Here she is eyeing up our hedge for nesting birds. She didn’t attempt to climb it (though foxes will climb trees if the incentive is sufficient).

Wolfy investigating a hedge where sparrows may be nesting. Note the cub at her feet, watching!

Look before you leap!

There is a second adult fox, but he never shows himself when I’m there. The nearest encounter is this photo when he was watching carefully from below the fence line as I photographed the bold little cub. Wolfy was further in the garden, just out of shot.

Fox cub, with adult fox in background keeping watch through the fence

Finally, another portrait of the little fox.

Smiling fox cub

Camera note: all photos taken with the Canon 1DX Mark II. The night shots were with the EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS II USM lens. I used the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM for the daytime shots.

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Fox Cubs 2019 edition

Well, Wolfy has finally shown up with some of her cubs. So far the night camera has spotted three fox cubs, though I’ve only seen two of them when I’ve been out watching with the camera. There may be more. It’s very difficult to tell at this stage as their visits are intermittent and quite brief. I’m also being fairly cautious with the camera so as not to spook them. At this age they don’t really know I’m there, but sudden noise or movement will have them running for cover. So these are grabbed shots, but some of them are quite cute. Fox cubs are always cute, so it’s difficult to go wrong!

Here’s a handful of the early shots, taken over a couple of nights, to enjoy

fox cub

They are likely 6-8 weeks old. And so small!

fox cub and vixen

Asking mum for food!

fox cub

Exploring the garden

fox cub

fox cub and vixen

Fox cub with Wolfy

Finally a brief video clip from the trail camera. It’s Wolfy with two cubs and a surprise interloper!

Camera note: all photos taken with the Canon 1DX Mark II and EF 70-200mm f/4.0L IS II USM lens.

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How to tell the difference between male and female foxes

Vixen on roof

Wolfy showing slightly swollen teats.

For the past few months I have been referring to Wolfy as male, but as the above picture confirms Wolfy is most definitely female. Ouch! That’s a poor mistake for me to make, but it got me thinking about how we identify the sex of a wild fox. Often it is very obvious, but not always. This blog explores why I think I leapt to an incorrect conclusion and looks at some of the ways that wild foxes can be sexed.

Looking at the above picture of Wolfy, her teats are clearly evident on her lower trunk. This is one of the most obvious signs of a vixen and is even more unmistakable when the vixen is nursing young. See the next image of a previous vixen taken when she was nursing young cubs.

nursing vixen

Nursing vixen – photo taken a few years ago

Identifying male foxes can also be easy, as in this next photo. Of course, they don’t always present themselves quite so explicitly. It’s very easy when the penis is protruding, but often all you will see is a small circle of fur in that area.

male (dog) fox

Dog Fox – this photo is from a few years ago of a male (dog) fox.

 

This next photo (taken some years ago) is of a male (‘dog’) fox in heavy moult (and possible slight mange); but it also shows the fox’s testicles (which are carried relatively high). 

Male fox with testicles visible

Male fox with testicles visible

 

My assumption that Wolfy was male was based primarily on the identification of ‘him’ as ‘male’ as a young cub, having seen him present himself (penis extruding) very much as in the previous picture. That and some aspects of his friendly behaviour. Of the 5 cubs we saw over the summer, two were noticeably darker than the others. Wolfy was one of them, a bit of a loner with a preference for the front corner of the garden. He was a more regular visitor than the second darker fox.

Autumn brings behavioural changes as the adult foxes reassert their territorial claims. Young foxes are driven off to fend for themselves. For a short while we barely saw any cubs. Thus, when a familiar young fox, with a dark coat, reappeared in November I assumed it was Wolfy. 

fox at night

Wolfy taken on 8th December 2018


I missed some (obvious) clues that it wasn’t him (i.e. the male cub from the summer).

Firstly, during the annual dispersal of cubs a young male fox is much more likely than a female to be driven off from the birth territory. While males nearly always disperse, it is relatively common for a first year female to remain with the home group even if she doesn’t breed. She will act as a helper vixen to the primary vixen much as Pretty – a 2017 female cub – did last year. So that was a big behavioural clue and I should have paid much more heed to it. Bluntly a mature male would not allow a young male to remain on his turf. And if a young fox remains she is almost certainly female.  

There are also some other physiological clues. Males tend to have broader heads (and may be larger overall). This is more obvious with mature adults but heavy winter coats can disguise this to an extent (much as the winter coat will mask the more obvious sex characteristics). A broad head indicates a male, much as a narrow head indicates a female.  

dog fox

Dog fox showing the broad male head

vixen

Vixen showing the narrow head shape

vixen

The Bold Vixen from a few years ago had a relatively broad face so head shape in isolation can be tricky.  

With juveniles, head shape is less helpful as they are still growing. Foxes are not fully developed until over a year old (they tend to gain muscle and weight). The heavy winter coat can also be deceptive as the fur broadens their overall shape. These are excuses, but Wolfy is small, and her head has remained ‘narrow’. This is more obvious as she approaches her first birthday.   

The biggest clue, however was this next video clip and I missed it entirely. It was captured in November and is definitely Wolfy. 

Although I hear fox calls all the time I have very rarely witnessed them, and didn’t appreciate the significance of this call until I came across an excellent video by Professor Dawn Scott (produced for the Fox Guardians site). Wolfy is making the vixen’s call for mating partners.

I’ll sign off with a couple more pictures of Wolfy. And hopefully this will teach me to be more observant of all the signs.

Vixen scratching

Wolfy at approx 1 year old (taken 1st March 2019)

fox cub

‘Wolfy’ at 3-4 months old

Postscript: for a more scientific article on this topic visit the excellent Wildlife Online site.

 

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