Tag Archives: foxes

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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Scamp and Long Nose (fox special)

Both the young foxes were around today, and both were utterly charming and cooperative with the camera. Scamp was the early arrival, this morning which is when I took this back-lit silhouette of her.

Scamp, the young vixen in silhouette

Scamp, the young vixen in silhouette

We named her Scamp because of her early habit of scampering away into the undergrowth, but she has become rather bolder as time has progressed. She is still more reserved than her brother, but they get on well together.

fox sitting in foreground with second fox in background

Long Nose, the young male fox, with Scamp relaxing in the background

Long Nose was named for his long, elegant snout. He was the first of the cubs we named at a time we were still using physical identifiers for naming purposes. Given his relationship with Scamp (or Scampi), I sometimes think we should have called him Chips (Scampi and Chips). The more I see of him, the more he reminds me of one of last year’s cubs we called Black Tail.

fox reclining with head raised

Long Nose strikes an elegant pose

Long Nose has made a speciality of sprawling himself out int eh sunshine. He is undoubtedly one of the most relaxed foxes we’ve had visit. These shots are typical.

fox stretching

Long Nose stretching

fox relaxing

Long Nose without a care in the world

Scamp tends to be more cautious, or at least to pick slightly more sheltered corners to spread out.

fox leaning over steps

Scamp, sprawled but alert on the steps

fox in long grass (portrait)

Scamp, peering out through the long grass

This pair are the only two of the cubs who have remained visible through the summer. I think there is at least one other around, but each fox is different and some remain cautious and secretive. Over the next two or three months the annual redistribution of territory will take place and the chances are that at least one of this pair will move on to a new location. Last year only one of the cubs (Pretty) remained over winter (she still visits regularly). It would be nice to think that at least one of these two will stay this year.

Camera note: all photos taken with the Canon 1DX Mark II and EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens, except the silhouette which was taken with the EF 24-105 F4L IS USM lens.

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A Cormorant Takes Off, and a little fox treat

The decent weather continues. Today was sunny once again, and I was out at Seven Sisters early this morning. It was quiet, and the sheep were grazing along the banks of the water.

Sheep grazing at the water side with reflections. East Sussex

A heron was stalking the shallows in the distance, and swallows were overhead as they prepare for their winter migration.

Lurking under the cover of the bank was a cormorant. I didn’t notice it at first, but I heard – and then saw – it as it took to the wing. I’ve not seen many cormorants this year, but I’ve not really been looking.

Taking off…

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) taking off from the water and flying over farmland at Seven Sisters country park, East Sussex

Flying low over the fields…

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) taking off from the water and flying over farmland at Seven Sisters country park, East Sussex

Sweeping up and away across the valley…

Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) taking off from the water and flying over farmland at Seven Sisters country park, East Sussex

The foxes are still doing fine. Their behaviour is changing, and the young foxes are becoming much more independent of each other. Bully Boy is in and out of the garden quite a lot in the day, and Pretty – although slightly more erratic – is still visiting most days. I’ve not seen Red for a little while, but I’m fairly sure he has appeared on the trail cam. These are Pretty from this evening.

Fox cub walking directly to camera on grass

Fox cub in shade

Close up head shot of fox cub showing eye

Camera note: all shots taken with the Canon 7D and EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L USM IS lens.

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