When I first moved out to the country and into my homestead, I was quite shocked to hear a scream that sounded like someone was being murdered the first night.
I knew this wasn’t really possible since my neighbors were quite far away from me.
I had to investigate and wondered if it may be an animal, a fox, perhaps? I called my local park ranger and he explained that yes, foxes are nocturnal, so you’ll hear them communicate at night.
And these animals don’t just scream, they have other sounds they make to communicate too.
What Do Foxes Sound Like?
Foxes have over 30 vocalization kinds categorized into 3 groups: alarm calls, interaction calls, and contact calls. Some of the popular non-aggressive sounds foxes make are raspy barks, whimpers and whines, barks, gekkering, and clucking. Alarm calls include coughs, snarls, and yelps, growls, and high-pitched screams or howls.
What Sounds Foxes Make
Foxes are part of the Canidae family, which dogs and wolves belong to. Since a fox is smaller, its hunting style is more cat-like.
So the sounds they make to communicate with their fox family are reminiscent of both dog and cat sounds, and also some that are uniquely fox.
Depending on where you live in the U.S., you’ll hear sounds of gray foxes, red foxes, kit foxes, and arctic foxes. Researchers say that foxes make over 30 distinct sounds, but here are some of the common sounds:
Sound 1: Raspy Bark
One sound that a fox makes is a raspy bark.
Researchers believe that this vocalization is used when foxes identify themselves to other foxes.
Sound 2: High-Pitched Howl
This high-pitched howl sounds very much like a scream. It is believed that instead of a scream, foxes make high-pitched howls as their mating calls when they want to mate.
It’s usually the vixen (female fox) that emits a high-pitched howl (or scream, depending on whom you ask), and the male answers this call to mate with a bark.
When a male fox screams, it is short and explosive. This scream is to warn other rival male foxes not to approach its mate.
Sound 3: Triple Bark
The triple bark vocalization is mostly made by male foxes when they proclaim their territory.
Sound 4: Growl
A growl is a low-pitched, guttural sound that can only be heard if you are close to a fox. When foxes growl at each other, they are ready to fight over a female fox.
A fox also growls when they want to fight over territory.
A fox will also growl at a predator and when moving into a defensive position. This lets the predator know the fox is ready to fight.
Pups, kits, or cubs (baby foxes) are known to growl at their siblings when they are “play” fighting, but when a parent growls, it is a warning.
Sound 5: Whimper and Whine
A whine and a whimper aren’t aggressive sounds. Whimpers and whines are soft vocalizations and whimpers are often used to soothe.
For example, a vixen can whimper at her pups to let them know everything is okay or to keep them quiet.
When a fox whines or whimpers, it is usually in submission.
Pups usually whimper to let their parents know they need attention or are cold or hungry. Thus, whimpering is used to get their parents’ attention.
Sound 6: Bark
Foxes either bark in surprise or warning to let their den know that something is wrong. These barks aren’t quite like a dog’s bark; instead, it is a high yip, but it does sound like a wow-wow-wow.
Some people mistake these wolf barks that are a contact call like an owl hooting.
Sound 7: Scream
The most common sound you’ll associate with a fox is a scream. However, these screams are described differently depending on who hears them.
Everyone agrees that these screams are high-pitched, deafening, and scary.
When a fox screams, they scream in sets, and this is repeated in intervals of 3-10 seconds.
People think that a fox screams because it is in pain or scared, but these animals live alone and scream to contact other foxes. It is part of how foxes socially interact with each other.
Foxes also scream to protect their young, especially if there is an intruder that wants to invade their lair. This scream is one of aggression and to prevent any invasion of their turf.
Sound 8: Snarl and Yelp
When a vixen snarls or yelps, she is rebuffing mating attempts from an amorous male fox.
Sound 9: Gekkering
Gekkering is a series of guttural sounds that are low in volume, and these can be mixed with the occasional howl or yelp.
Adult foxes gekker when they are defending their territory, while baby foxes gekker when they play with their siblings.
Sound 10: Clucking
In greeting, wolves may cluck at each other.
This clucking is very similar to the clucking sound chickens make.
Sound 11: An Alarm Call
When parents want to warn their pups that danger is coming and/or they need to hide in the den, then adult foxes emit an alarm call that sounds like a cough.
It is a long but sharp waaaah sound.
Frequently Asked Questions about What Foxes Sound Like
Why do foxes scream at night?
When foxes communicate, they may scream at each other; however, they also have other ways of communication. Most commonly, when a fox screams in January, it is mating season. So foxes scream to attract a mate, and it will be during the night when these animals are most active.
When I hear a sound like a woman being murdered, what animal should I expect to see?
In late winter or in spring, when female foxes are ready to breed, they let out a blood-curdling call that sounds like a woman is being murdered. This sound is one of the loudest noises that foxes make.
The Final Sound
So what does the fox say? A lot, apparently.
With more than 30 different sounds that researchers have identified, foxes use a variety of vocalizations to communicate with their fox family and with predators.
I now know that when I hear a high-pitched scream in January that sounds like someone is in danger or about to be killed, it is most likely just a vixen emitting a mating call because she is in season.