For some time now I have been feeding our urban foxes kitchen scraps. Well if you count prime dog meat, dental biscuits and the occasional pig’s ears as scraps. I know the foxes are out there every night scavenging rather than hunting, just thought I would help them out a bit.
I put the food outside the front door in an old metal tray (they steal the dishes) and in the morning I bring it in, licked clean. I have no idea who eats it, whether it is a fox or a neighbour’s cat or just voracious garden slugs. So with the new infra-red camera I decided to lay a trap and capture the midnight diners.
I began my plan by moving the food dish towards the gate where I could see it from the window. Then for a couple of nights I left the front door lamp on so they would get used to eating in the glare of the spotlight. Finally, I was ready to set up the camera and managed to get it to balance on the inside of the small open window. I was ready for action.
That night as I put the food out by the gate a slug the size of a Zeppelin and a snail set off at a steady pace to tuck in. It had taken longer for these guys to adjust to the new feeding position and they still hung around by the front door. Timing was of the essence here. If they arrived at the same time as the fox, they could find themselves on the menu. I am sure there must have been some casualties among the molluscs in this shared dining arrangement. I set the camera to flash when detecting movement and went off to bed.
In the morning the food dish was empty; licked clean and ready for more. I was keen to see who had enjoyed the evening meal so took the disk out and put it straight into the computer. There were pictures of the tray full of food and the hanging basket blowing in the wind which must have set the camera off. More pictures of the food in the tray, then at last the nose of a fox peering round the corner and looking into the dish. I moved on quickly to the next picture expecting to see the fox tucking in only to see a now empty dish. I wondered how the fox had managed to eat without setting the camera off. Did he have an accomplice who held his paws over the lens in the style of a Tom Cruise film, or had he moved in slow motion to outwit the sensor?
The next night it was apparent that the fox was spooked by the camera flash as it started to pull the tray out of the front garden and into the road. The camera caught pictures of the tray full, then many pictures of no tray at all. Never a single shot of the fox in action. Determined to get my evidence I decided to close the garden gate. Now they would have to lift the tray up and over the wall. I positioned the camera again and watched to see what would happen from a safe hideaway behind the front room curtains. My regular routine of putting the food out immediately after the news at ten was starting to deliver results. The foxes had adjusted their body clocks and I didn’t have long to wait. The camera poised above me took not a shot of the fox arriving and poking his nose through the bars of the closed gate. The fox only had to push at it and it would have opened as there is no catch. The camera didn’t get a single shot of the fox as he jumped with ease over the garden wall and started to cram down the food. All the time the fox was looking this way and that, eyes and ears alert. Then suddenly the flash went off and the fox lifted the tray right over the wall as he sprang to safety, spilling the food across the pavement.
It felt mean to put the foxes through the ordeal of the flashing camera. They were very timid and their whole body was tense, not good for your digestion I thought. As the foxes had become accustomed to the feeding time I decided to just watch them from the window. As 10.30 came round the food went out. Then I turned out the lights at the front of the house and took up my position behind the curtains. I left the gate open now, so that they felt more comfortable. Within a short time a young fox would arrive and gollop down everything he could in one go. If a car went passed or someone walked down the other side of the street, the fox would be gone; slipping silently back into the night.
I soon realised that it wasn’t always the same fox, though all the foxes who came seemed young, less than a year old. They would arrive at the gate and take a moment to look and sniff to check that all was safe. They would often look right up at me peeking out from behind the curtains. They knew from the scent of me that I was there even though I was as still as a rock. A wild animal always has to evaluate the risk of finding food. Too cautious and you miss out, too daring and you get eaten yourself. How fortunate we are to share our food with others in lingering evening meals over a glass of wine. Virtually every other creature knows that as it tucks into supper one night it could be on the menu the next.
One evening I was visited by a group of foxes, who decided to pull the tray out into the middle of the road as a sharing plate. As one ate the others hung back. There was a clear pecking order, though they all looked to be the same age and size. But the first left food for the second and this in turn left food for the third. Then off they went leaving the tray behind in the middle of the road. I decided to fetch it in before I went to bed. It’s best to keep this type of activity low key in urban areas. As I picked the tray up I thought I saw a piece of meat left in the corner, but it turned out to be a snail, cleaning up the scraps. I put the tray down by the front door so it could finish off and as I went inside a car pulled up directly over the spot where the tray had been. I had saved a life.
The routine continued and I tried to keep to the schedule. Each night, after the news, the food went out and one night Sooty went out with it. She is not an adventurous cat and prefers to stay home, but on a summer’s evening, she likes to check things out. She followed me out into the front garden. Sniffed round the tray but didn’t touch the food, then sat down on the doormat to take in the air. While I waited for her to come back in, I sat down on the settee watching her through the open front door. The night was quiet, not a car or a person to interrupt the stillness, then from out of the inky blackness the face of a fox appeared. It looked straight at Sooty, then up at me. Not sure who was most surprised. I kept still. We all looked at each other for a few moments wondering who would make the first move, then the fox decided to tuck in before anyone else arrived. I could hear the crunching of the biscuits as the fox rapidly devoured the food. He kept one foot up, poised ready to run and his ears were sharp and upright, turning this way and that. Without stopping to lick the plate he took his leave and the black of the night reclaimed his space.
I would not encourage any wild animal, fox or otherwise to enter the house. We all need to keep our boundaries. But seeing this wild creature up so close was a magical moment. Our urban foxes are quite rightly timid and wary of people and that is just how it should be.