Fox Scream: What makes Foxes Scream at Night?

A fox scream at night can send a shiver down your spine. As a professional fox hunter and the author of Night Hunting Red and Gray Fox, I get more calls about a fox screaming than a wolf or coyote howling.

As scary as a fox scream is, there is no threat to you—as long as you stay away. You can enjoy your campfire and listen. But if you are a fox, you might interpret a fox screaming in an entirely different, if not unpleasant, way.

Is a fox killing your chickens?

Fox scream
Screaming fox
Fox screams
Sound of a fox at night
Red fox in the snow. Photocredit: Ninger.

Fox scream: What causes fox screaming?

A fox scream is a sound likened to a human female screaming that is usually made by a red fox defending its territory, den, or kits (juvenile foxes). It is also made by foxes to attract a mate, to scare off breeding competitors, and while copulating during the mating season.

You may very well have gray fox living near you. Although many expert believe gray and red foxes inhabit different habitats, I’ve always seen them hunting for mice in the same areas.

Want to find a fox den? Read this article, How to find a fox den.

Fox Screams: Myths about foxes.

Before we begin, let’s bust a few myths about foxes.

Myth # 1:    Foxes travel in packs. While you may see more than two foxes simultaneously, when you do, that’s just a family. The father (dog) and mother (vixen) will sometimes travel with their juvenile kits, but fox are otherwise solitary animals, and they never form packs of unrelated members.

Myth # 2:   Foxes kill for pleasure. When a fox gets inside a chicken coop, the poor farmer often finds every bird inside has been killed. The uneaten remains and complete devastation are then misconstrued as a killing frenzy. But it isn’t true. A fox that gets into a hen house has found a wealth of food.

After killing, it will attempt to cache the excess animals as future food sources. However, caching food takes a lot of time, and most coop raids are interrupted before the fox has removed all the bodies. This leads to the myth the birds were killed just for the sake of killing.

Myth # 3:    Foxes are territorial. Yes, and no. They do reside in a “territory” that they regularly and frequently scent mark, but they do not defend it in the same aggressive manner predator hunters associate with coyotes. Using fox vocalizations to create “trespasser” scenarios is a waste of time.

Myth # 4:    Foxes are dogs. Well, heck, we call the male fox a “dog,” but they are a different species. As a result, Foxy and Fido can’t produce offspring. The major problem with this myth for hunters is they may accidentally hunt fox like they hunt coyotes, but the fox is more like a cat.

Like cats, foxes hunt mostly at night. They have the same vertical pupils and can see quite well in low light conditions. They pounce on their prey like cats and the Gray fox, can climb trees like a cat.

Read this article on How to identify fox prints and scat.

Does the gray fox scream?

Gray Fox and Kits. Photo Shutterstock/Geoffrey Kuchera

There are three significant differences between the appearance of the Gray fox and the Red fox. The first is in the number of sightings, if not the actual number of grays compared to reds. Gray foxes rarely move during the day and are, therefore, seldom seen by most people.

The second difference is the distinct cat-like appearance and coloration of the Gray fox. The Gray fox’s fur is a salt and pepper grey color, with rusty red areas on the neck, sides, and legs. It also features a black stripe running the length of its back, down to the tip of its tail.

The last real difference is the fox is a shy animal and the fox screams very little.

When does a gray fox scream?

The breeding season for gray fox begins in January in New York, Vermont, and Massachusetts. This period is all about finding a potential mate and establishing a site to raise a family.

Like the Red fox, Gray foxes select a mate through a courting ritual that includes a 3 to 4 week bonding period. During this period, the two will travel and hunt together, eventually selecting a proper den site. 

It’s believed Gray foxes mate for life and breed only once a year. Gray fox scream are most common during the mating season, with the fox emitting a series of sharp barks, screams, or yips to attract a mate. If you have never heard these other sounds, your average e-caller will include Gray fox growls, snarls, and even some squeals.

Give them a listen for while and you might hear a gray fox screaming or screeching. The scream of a Gray fox in the middle of a dark January night may give you a jolt, but it is easily recognizable and confirms they are nearby.

Red Fox kits at Den entrance. Photo Shutterstock/Steve Oehlenschlager

The red fox screams the most often.

The Red fox is found throughout the United States, Canada, and large portions of Europe, North Africa, and Asia. It is also best know to campers for its fox screaming sounds at night.

The Red fox has a bushy tail that is often longer than that of a much larger coyote. It has thick, soft, reddish fur across its upper body, tail, and head. It has a dog-like pointed muzzle and thick, soft fur.

The “black socks” coloration of their legs is distinguishable even under infrared lighting. They run about 3 to 3.5 feet in length (with a third of this length being the tail) and weigh 10-12 pounds on average.

Fox screaming sound
Cute, but a red fox can play hell on a farmer.

The red fox breeding season: when a fox scream means the chance to mate.

This season occurs from January through March. During a courtship period of 3-4 weeks, the male and the female travel and hunt together before selecting a proper den site. During courtship a red fox screams are used to drive off other male competitors.

For pre-existing pairs, the family unit will consist of an alpha male (the resident dog) and an alpha female (the vixen), and one or two vixens from the previous litter that did not disperse and will assist in the rearing of the next litter.

Both alphas will actively defend their territory during this period, through physical attacks on intruders, barking, and the use of territorial markers of urine and scat. The vixen is only interested in breeding for about 72 hours, and the male will relentlessly follow her around and make multiple attempts to mount her as her window of opportunity approaches.

The Red fox dog is not believed to be monogamous. It may leave a previous partner to take up residence with a new one, or have many vixens and litters. Maybe that fox screaming at night is a jilted lover?

Click here for or a list of fox hunting laws by state.

Dennis V. Gilmore Jr.

Dennis V. Gilmore Jr. is a former Marine Sergeant and the author of several books, including two on night hunting coyotes and red and gray fox. He has written several hundred articles on predator hunting for

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