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TRANSACTIONS SOME OBSERVATIONS ON FOXES N O R A H BURKE D Ăœ R I N G the summers of 1965/6/7 I had three different fox families under Observation; as a result of which I have two questions to ask of other naturalists who may be able to give the answers.

1965 I never saw the earth itself, for the foxes were lying up on private land where I did not have permission to visit, and where five of them were later shot in a fox-drive. Through binoculars, however, they could be watched sun-bathing in the distance. DĂźring this year, no particular problems presented themselves, but I was able to confirm two facts noted by other observers: (1) that (as with other carnivores and their prey-species) some of the prey-species of foxes show no fear in the presence of foxes when the predators are not hunting, and (2) that foxes, when seen with badgers (Meies meles) seem to take the inferior role. The details are as follows, extracted from my field notes: 2 8 T H J U N E (fine, dry, hot day), vixen and cubs relaxed and at play, in the evening. A small rabbit was feeding within twenty yards of the foxes. It sat up every now and then to look round for danger, went on feeding, and even moved towards the foxes. At the same time a hen pheasant was within fifty to sixty yards and also took no notice of them. Vixen and cubs eventually went away without a second glance at rabbit or bird. Another day I saw a young fox and a cock pheasant Standing side by side within a yard of each other as they stared in my direction. I was nearly half a mile away, using binoculars. The fox finally bounded off.

Here I shall add an entry for 1 2 T H FEBRUARY, 1 9 6 7 , because it concerns pheasants and a fox. On this cold brilliant day at 11 a.m., I came round the corner of some derelict farm buildings. Within a Space of four or five Square yards a fox was sun-bathing together with three pheasants, while a further five pheasants later got up just round the corner in the next yard. Of course they all saw me and scattered. 21ST JUNE (drenching wet day but Clearing towards evening). I was badger-watching in Forestry Commission plantations. The badgers were up while there was still daylight, and stayed with me some time. Later, one went behind me and


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returned accompamed by a big fox. They were within three to tive yards of me, and I noticed again that foxes in the presence of other wild ammals do not seem to be at all wary, apparently relying on the others to detect their common enemy, Man. T h e fox seemed in playful mood but the badgers seemed to ignore him They did not accept his invitation to frolic. They went below ground, whereupon the fox made darting movements at the hole dabbing with his paws, but it was clear that he was nervous and had not the courage to enter. Finally he seemed to lose interest and turned to go, at the same time as the badgers came up again rhey all then went off, seemingly together, the fox in front as if leading, but I think the truth was that the fox had decided to go away by one of the well-worn badger-paths, and that it so happened the badgers went that way too. This is the only time I have ever seen any fnendliness between badger and fox, and throughout I had the general impression that the badgers were dominant. Though perhaps this was only because they were on their own ground, and the fox a visitor. 1966 For four nights at the end of May I had a fox family at very close quarters. The earth was in the root of an old maple smothered in ivy and bramble. Such places used to be common but are now becoming rare in our desecrated land. A stunted bush-like hawthorn gave me concealment at six yards' distanceand on the first evening I was no sooner in position than the cubs appeared. At this stage, they were still in their baby-wool like camelhair. Strange to say, although I had this family u'nder Observation for four nights, I was never certain of the number of cubs. The earth had three entrances, not all visible at once I decided there were either three or four cubs, but they were so quick, darting underground or behind me, that I never had more than three in sight at one time. Two had white tips to the tails another not, but how many 'others' were there? The vixen kept among the brambles and, of course, was far more wary than the cubs, so that I did not see her well until after sunset The emergence of the cubs for play, which I had witnessed, when they gambolled round me, sniffed my gumboots, worried at bits of stinking bone or snapped at flies, was very different from the second emergence. This occurred after dark with the utmost stealth Then the cubs, copying their parents, were no more tnan shadows evaporating in the gloom. Here I would mention that foxes near my home (that is, among arable land with some meadows and coverts) appear to take a lot ot wood pigeons, and that during rook-shooting they pick up the young rooks. I have also found the freshly killed body of a red squirrel {Sciurus vulgaris $ ) with the head bitten off, and (another time) the skull of a red squirrel among the bones near a fox-earth.


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Suffolk Natural History,

Vol. 15, Part 1

In 1966, after four nights' Observation, I lost this family of foxes because the farmer turned bullocks into the meadow, and the foxes left. But while I was watching them, what I noticed chiefly was that, though they came right u p to me, and though the wind was of course blowing from the earth towards the watcher, I never once scented fox, and I have noticed this fact with other foxes at this time of year. Which brings me to my first question: does the vixen lose her scent while suckling? 1967 12TH J U N E (fine, dry, warmish evening, but later cold with dew). I had been searching for several days for the fox-earth which I guessed must be in a certain area near my home. Footprints and feathers were giving the foxes away, yet the earth remained undiscovered until this evening. T h e n , as I walked, there came the whiff of decomposing meat, and suddenly ahead of me was a charnel house. Carcases of wood pigeon, hare, rabbit, blackbird, and hen pheasant lay in all directions. There were also two dead moles ( T a l p a europaea) not touched, and remains of three newborn roe kids (Capreolus capreolns), for we now have roe in the wcods near my home, as well as the occasional fallow deer (Dama dama). T h e head of one roe kid was soft and newly killed, the others had hardened into the dried grin of death. Carrion flies came buzzing out of the rib cages. Most of the carcases of hare, pheasant, and roe kid had been treated in the same manner: laid on the back and with the belly opened up. Feet, head (and the wings of birds) were usually still attached to the vertebrae by strings of skin and smelly meat.

It was late in the evening when I came on this earth which consisted of two holes, ten yards apart, in a bank. If I was to see the foxes, I must find a place at once in which to sit. Choosing a spot among some saplings, I drew long grass over my legs, pulled scarf u p over my mouth and old feit hat (with leaves in the hatband) down over my eyes. These were the only available Camouflage in that place at short notice. DĂźring the time I watched this earth, no other concealment was used, and the foxes looked directly at me in good daylight at ten yards without seeing me. F r o m this and other similar instances, I deduce that if one can blend oneself in already-existing Cover, however slight, results are often better than if one constructs any kind of hide, which alarms foxes immediately, however slowly and quietly the hide is put up. T h e four cubs played in their usual way. I noticed that when they sat down on their haunches, the final movement was to curl the tail gracefully round the feet as a cat does. After the adults had left, I heard repeated ringing barks, loud and close, and wondered if they had circled round and discovered me. Were


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they warning the cubs who were still playing on the earth? But the cubs did not take cover, though they looked about them. After four nights of my watching the foxes, they moved home, and I suspect that these animals sniff round later in the night, detect the earlier presence of a human being, in spite of all my precautions, and quit the earth. T h e reason I think this is that watched foxes almost always move after three or four nights. Somehow they learn that they have been seen. On the last evening that I saw these foxes, they were no longer living in this earth, but came past me at a fast run, the eyes fixed steadily forward in a burning glare. As they passed out of sight, I decided they were hunting, and almost at once heard an agonized shriek from a hare. Among the remains that the foxes left at this old den of theirs were some bones from an adult roe, also some vertebrae, a femur and a piece of skull of a small fallow deer. T h e whole carcases were not there, only detached bones. Had the foxes found dead deer and pulled pieces off to carry home? Or — and this is my second question to other naturalists — was this family hunting as a wolf pack does, six of them together, and were they therefore able to pull down larger prey? Of course it is known that a pair of foxes may act together to secure a meal, and it is considered that the practice of hunting in packs among other species of carnivores (i.e., wolves, Canis lupus, wild dogs, Cuon alpinus, etc.) originated through hunting in family parties. But, of course, several foxes will visit large Carrion such as a sheep or deer, and perhaps that is what this family may have done in this instance. At the same time, with the spread of building, and with agricultural control of rabbits, mice and beetles, it may be that foxes are finding it harder to get food than has hitherto been the case. So I ask the question: are foxes beginning to develop the habit of hunting in packs? Airs. Norah

Walrond (Norah Burke), Thorne Court, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk.

Cockfield,

Some Observations on Foxes  
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