In the dead of night in January, while we are tucked snugly in bed, unearthly sounds shatter the calm outside. These blood-curdling cries are the love calls of foxes, and signal the arrival of the mating season in earnest.

Vixens are at their most receptive to fertilisation for as little as three days in midwinter, so any potential mate needs to shadow his intended partner closely to deter rivals and to ensure his paternity of the spring cubs.

January is a busy time for fox families. Cubs born in the previous spring disperse to find territories or mates of their own. Although many leave of their own accord, they are sometimes driven off by their parents who don’t welcome competition for food or partners.

You’ll hear two typical calls at this time of year, the raucous triple bark, which the dominant dog fox uses to proclaim his territory, and a loud wailing scream.

Before a successful mating, the vixen may often rebuff an amorous male with snarls and yelps. Even when they mated, screams will persist as the copulating dog fox is temporarily trapped by the female.

At this time of year, you may see the pair tail to tail in the ‘tie’ position which, from the sounds produced by mating animals, may be an uncomfortable affair.

The two foxes can remain locked together for an hour or more, but once mating is over, the vixen wastes no time in preparing an earth, often under a garden shed, for her spring litter.

Illustration by Mike Hughes and red fox vixen photograph credit Brent Hardy.

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