Fox cubs are typically born in March and need to learn how to hunt for their food to survive. By late April or May, the tiny cubs can be seen coming out of their dens and playing. Play is a fantastic way for cubs to learn to hunt and is essential for their survival.
Foxes are omnivores and will eat almost any food. For the first four weeks, cubs will feed on milk and, for the next month, rely on solid food brought to them by adults. As summer progresses, they learn to hunt with their parents before leaving the family group in autumn or winter.
This article looks at the cubs’ early life and what they eat.
First Few Weeks
Cubs are usually born around late March, and there are usually four or five to each litter. Foxes are born blind and deaf and covered in black fur, looking nothing like what they will become. The first two weeks of a cub’s life are spent with the vixen, which only leaves the den to urinate or defecate.
The adult male does all the hunting in the first few weeks and brings food to the vixen. Males are cautious not to upset the female protecting the young and will drop the food near the female before retreating quickly.
It takes about two weeks for the cubs to open their eyes and be able to hear sound. Their vision is poor to start with but gets better quickly. They also learn to crawl and can be a handful for the vixen as they start to see.
Cubs are dependent on the vixen’s milk for the first four weeks of life. The fur on the mother’s belly is lost as the cubs feed and pull away at it. Foxes have four sets of nipples, allowing all the cubs to feed simultaneously. If only one or two cubs are born, then only the rear pairs produce milk.
When the cubs are very young, they feed with the mother lying down. As they crawl and walk, the vixen will stand up, allowing them easier access.
Four Weeks Onwards
Cubs can usually be seen above ground after four weeks in late April or early May. The cubs will start to eat solid food at this time, but they will not stray far from their den. They will usually begin to move to solid food by eating food that the mother has regurgitated. Small birds, bread, and bones may also be eaten depending on what the parents bring them.
Any carcasses that they find will also be eaten, although young foxes may have a hard time tearing these apart without the help of their parents. Cubs will also continue to feed on milk until they are about six weeks old, although some have been seen trying to get milk up to three months after birth.
While the cubs live in or around the den for the first few months, the adults will bring them food. Pigeons, hedgehogs, chickens, squirrels, rats, mice, and small birds make a good meal for foxes. Den sites often contain many bones strewn around in May and June.
Urban garbage such as fast food boxes and fries wrappers are brought back due to their smell and the taste of grease and fat.
Small wild birds make up the central part of the diet of fox cubs, with insects, meat bones, earthworms, small mammals, and fruit and vegetables all being easy meals.
As the weather becomes hotter in early June, foxes move away from their dens to cooler areas. Less food is brought back by the adults, and the young now have to learn how to hunt their food to survive.
As they become more independent, the cubs will forage themselves or with adults. However, as they are still learning, it is not as easy to catch food as the adults.
Cubs learn to hunt by feeding on easy-to-catch prey, and earthworms are usually their first hunt in late May or early June. Other ground insects such as beetles also make up a large part of their diet due to the ease of catching them.
The cubs will continue to learn how to hunt from their parents during the summer months, and by autumn, they are ready to leave the family group.
Foxes will are omnivores and will feed on almost anything. However, their diet does depend on their habitat, as those in urban areas have a different diet from their cousins living in the country.
As expected, urban foxes are more reliant on human garbage and food thrown away. This makes an easy, although not a usually nutritious, meal for the young fox. Bones, usually chicken, make up a large part of an urban foxes’ diet, although wild birds and mammals also make up a considerable portion.
The diet of a fox depends on the time of year. Autumn is an especially good time for fruit, and a large amount of fruit is consumed by foxes, while in spring, they mainly eat birds, which is when most young birds fledge.
Rats and pigeons are also eaten in large quantities, especially around industrial areas. In contrast, foxes can feed on higher-quality but not as nutritious human food in areas with lots of restaurants.
Foxes that live in the country do not have the same advantages as urban foxes when finding an easy meal. However, they are probably more healthy because of this.
Scavenged bones make up a large portion of their diet, but they also feed on many small mammals such as mice, voles, and moles. Fruit and vegetables such as apples, pears, and plums are tasty snacks for young foxes.
Red foxes have excellent hearing with ears that point outwards. Food is more difficult to come by in winter, but every morsel is worth the struggle to survive. Foxes can hear a mouse squeaking one hundred meters away, leaping on it after tracing the footsteps they leave behind in the snow.
In winter, foxes mainly feed on small mammals such as mice, squirrels, and rabbits, trying to find food. Insects are not as easy to find but still make up a big part of their diet.
Foxes will also cache their food for winter to survive. Surplus food is hidden in unique places called a cache for use in winter with a limited food supply.
Foxes start to cache from a very young age, with foxes as young as six weeks old seen caching food brought back by their parents. Even pet foxes are known to do this without adult supervision. While the nicest foods seem to be eaten straight away by foxes, other food is often put into a cache. These caches help foxes survive a harsh winter.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.