A large, furry family has taken up residence on a beach in Saint John's south end. 

A mother fox and up to six kits live in a den with a series of tunnels on Tin Can Beach, overlooking the city's port. 

"I wouldn't even have expected to really come across a fox down here," said Peter Butler, who often walks his dog Carter along the shore.

"You see them every once in a while just passing through. But to see one that actually was smart enough to make a home down here and bring the kits with it, I was not expecting that."

Butler previously photographed up to six of the young foxes frolicking with their mother on the beach. On Tuesday, at least three of the kits were running around the den, racing in and out of its tunnels. 

"There's a lot of mouths to feed," said Butler. "But there's lots of rodents and dead fish down here to eat. Some garbage. Bottoms of Tim Hortons cups." 

In the fox family is a young silver fox, a unique genetic variation of the common red fox. The kit's dark fur stands in stark contrast to that of its red siblings. 

"It's awesome," said Butler. "But we don't get too close because we don't want to disturb them. And we want to see them grow and flourish." 

Port installs fence

Peter Butler

Saint John resident Peter Butler previously photographed up to six of the young foxes. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

The fox family now lives behind a chain-link fence, recently installed by the Port of Saint John. While the fence keeps the steady stream of onlookers at bay, its function as a protective barrier is a mere happenstance. 

"No, we didn't build it just for the foxes," said Jim Quinn, president and chief executive officer of the Port of Saint John. 

Quinn said the fence came up as a security measure for a company that leased the land the foxes now live on. But now it also stops people from bothering the wildlife, he said.

"The area is under surveillance with cameras," he added.

Butler said the foxes are pretty calm. But he also hopes that onlookers keep a respectful distance to the young family.

"I'm really hoping people just stay behind the fence to watch them and let them grow, and it doesn't get to the point where the mother just picks up camp and leaves," he said.