Why Do Foxes Scream At Night?

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: September 25, 2021
Image Credit iStock.com/JMrocek
Share this post on:

Anyone who has heard a fox scream at night may wonder what the reason is for that noise. It can be a bone-chilling sound if you are out after dark. You may wonder if someone or something is injured or getting ready to attack. The good news is, foxes scream to communicate. It is just one of the many vocalizations that they make.

Why Foxes Scream

Foxes are closely related to dogs, and like dogs, they have a range of ways to communicate. Unlike dogs who growl, whine, and yelp in addition to barking, foxes have a higher pitch to their vocalizations. Because of this, the noise can sound like a scream.

What the Screams Mean

fox scream at night - red fox in field
A red fox sitting among rocks. Foxes scream and bark to communicate with each other. This becomes more common during mating season, which is at its peak in January.

iStock.com/Rejean Bedard

The most common reason that foxes scream is to attract a mate and during the mating process. Because of this, you are most likely to hear these screams during mating season. Foxes look for mates during the winter. This, combined with the fact that noises travel further without vegetation to buffer sound, means you are most likely to hear a fox screaming during the cold weather months.

If you are sitting on your porch at night, the sound of a fox screaming can be frightening. For those unfamiliar with the noise, it can sound like a woman in distress. Rest assured, foxes scream as a method of communication, they are not fighting or calling for help.

Of course, the nighttime hours make the screaming noise more unsettling. Foxes are nocturnal, so this is when they are most active. While you are sure to hear them screaming, you may have heard foxes before and not realized it. Their yips and barks are easily mistaken for that of neighborhood dogs.

What Other Noises Do Foxes Make?

While it is normal to hear screaming during mating season, it isn’t the only noise that foxes make. Short, sharp screams or low, throaty growls are used by the male fox to warn other males to stay away.

A female fox who is not ready to be bred will let the male know by yelping and snarling. The male will respect the female and stick close by without mating. Once she is receptive and allows the breeding to proceed, it is normal for her to scream the entire time the two foxes are together.

Once the mother has her cubs both her and the male may use short, loud screams to let other foxes know it is their territory and to stay away. Foxes are very territorial and will aggressively warn others of the boundaries.

Gray Foxes and Red Foxes

When you hear a fox scream at night, it is most likely a red fox. Gray foxes make noise more similar to a dog’s bark than a woman’s scream. That isn’t the only difference between the two; there are actually many ways that red and gray foxes are different. Many people make the mistake of assuming that color is the only difference between the two. In fact, red and gray foxes are not closely related, although both are members of the dog family which is called canids.

Red foxes are not always red. They can also be black or grey. There are also cases of albino red foxes. A red fox has black legs and black-tipped ears and the tip of the tail is white. When looking at the face, the red fox looks more like a dog, while a gray fox more closely resembles a cat.

The gray fox is typically gray, but can also be brown or even red. Unlike the red fox, the gray fox has a black tip on its tail along with a black stripe running along its spine.

Fox scream at night - grey fox in tree
Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) climbing tree. Gray foxes make noise more similar to a dog’s bark than a woman’s scream.

Danita Delimont/Shutterstock.com

Other Animals that Scream at Night

Coyotes are becoming more common in suburban areas, and it isn’t unusual to hear their many vocalizations at night. Like a dog, they can bark and growl. They also howl, a noise they use to find other members of their pack. As a group, you may hear yips and howls. They do this to communicate with each other, but the noise can be unsettling in the quiet, dark night.

The mountain lion, or puma, is a big cat with a big scream to go along with it. Females caterwauling when they are ready to mate is easily confused with the sound of a frightened human female. Fortunately, as hair-raising as the noise is, it is not a sign of aggression.

Bobcats, another member of the cat family, are smaller than the mountain lion, but they also have a big voice. When you hear the mating noises of bobcats, it is easy to think someone is being killed. Even if you know it is a wild animal, you may assume they are fighting. Bobcats mate in late winter through early spring, so you are most likely to hear their screams during this time.

The gray fox, red fox, and the coyote are sometimes seen along the edges of suburbia and even in some urban areas. They become accustomed to humans and pets, and, although they won’t harm you and would prefer to avoid you if possible, you may see one darting across a street or through a yard in the early morning hours. While both red and gray foxes will also leave pets alone, coyotes can sometimes pose a danger to cats, smaller dogs, and small farm animals such as chickens.

Mountain lions and bobcats, however, are much more elusive. They are shy by nature and few people are lucky enough to see one in the wild. They avoid areas inhabited by humans whenever possible.

Next Up: 5 Stunning Animals That Have Multiple Hearts

Share this post on:
About the Author

AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

More from A-Z Animals