In North America, winter is mating season for foxes, with kits arriving in the spring. While the male fox lives and hunts alone much of the year, once cold weather arrives he's looking for a female, or vixen, to settle down with and raise babies. Once the kits are born, he's the one providing food for his family until they leave home in early summer.
The Reproductive Cycle
A vixen's estrous cycle lasts between one and six days. Vixens in northern regions go into estrus later than those dwelling in the south. Male foxes are only interested in breeding during a specific time frame, not year round. They also have a reproductive cycle, as their bodies only produce sperm during mating season. Foxes generally start breeding at the age of 1 year.
Male foxes court the vixens and often fight with other males during breeding season. The female chooses which one receives her favors. The males follow the female until she makes her decision. Some foxes become life mates, while others might remain pairs for more than one season. A male might also have more than one mate. Vixens might copulate with more than one male, but chooses only one male as the partner for raising kits.
If you hear a lot of yips and howls emanating from the woods on a winter's night, it could be the sound of foxes engaged in sex. Vulpine copulation lasts between 15 to 20 minutes, often with a great deal of noise involved. If the mating is successful, the fertilized egg implants in the vixen's womb within 10 to 14 days. Her gestation period lasts approximately two months. She usually gives birth to a litter averaging five kits.
Canines in Heat
If you have an unspayed dog, you know you must keep a careful watch on her when she goes into heat. Male dogs might not be your only worry. Foxes are members of the canine family, although they can't produce offspring with domestic dogs. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources website warns that in breeding season, foxes might be drawn to areas occupied by dogs in heat. While they won't usually try to breed with the dog or harm her, they might want to investigate the source of her compelling odors.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.