Why Do Foxes Scream At Night?

Written by Heather Hall
Updated: September 20, 2023
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Quick Answer:

  • Foxes typically scream during the night to defend their territory and to attract a mate during the mating season.
  • They have a higher pitch to their vocalizations that naturally sounds like a scream.
  • Red foxes are the most likely to scream at night.

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.

Is it Normal for Foxes to Scream?

Yes, foxes are closely related to dogs, and like dogs, they have a range of ways to communicate – but unlike dogs, their vocalizations include screaming. In contrast to 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

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The most common reasons that foxes scream during the night are to defend their territory and to attract a mate during the mating season. 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.

Red fox babies

Fox parents protect their babies by using short, loud screams to let other foxes know to stay away from their territory.

©iStock.com/Harry Collins

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 the 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

Where do Red Foxes Live?

Red foxes can be found all across the Northern Hemisphere including most of North America, Europe, Asia, and parts of North Africa. They like open areas in woodlands, rural and suburban neighborhoods, wetlands, and grassy fields.

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 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.

Question: Do foxes scream at people?

Angry Red Fox Standing in A Natural Background Screaming

Foxes scream for many reasons including fear of humans.


Image: AngelaLouwe, Shutterstock

©AngelaLouwe/Shutterstock.com

If you live in an area populated with red foxes you may have grown used to hearing their screams at night and during mating season. It is unnerving – but have you wondered if there is a possibility that a fox could scream at you? If you haven’t considered it – you should. Prepare yourself to be screamed at by a fox at some point so it won’t cause you to have a heart attack! Foxes scream if you are too close to their territory or out of fear if you appear out of the blue. If you open your door in the wee hours of the morning to take your dog out to pee and are suddenly screamed at – and it is blood-curdling – don’t panic. You startled the fox and it is scared. Clap your hands and yell back at it – and it will run off into the woods. Refrain from hiking in the woods close to your house if you suspect a fox den to be near. Foxes are learning to live in close proximity to humans out of necessity – we should meet them halfway.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/JMrocek


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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

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