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You may have heard a fox screaming and wondered what could make that sound, but this is not the only type of communication that foxes use. Foxes are social animals and use various ways to communicate.

Foxes use sounds, smells, and gestures to communicate. Foxes have about thirty groups of sounds and a complex body language system. Foxes also use feces and urine to mark their territory and convey fertility information.

In this article, we look at the different ways that foxes communicate.

How Do Foxes Communicate?

Foxes communicate through a variety of vocalizations, body language, and scent markings. Here are some ways in which foxes communicate:

  1. Vocalizations: Foxes are known for their vocalizations, which can include barks, yelps, howls, and screams. These vocalizations can serve various purposes, such as territorial defense, attracting mates, or communicating with their young.
  2. Body Language: Foxes use body language to convey information to other foxes. For example, they may use postures, tail positions, and facial expressions to express dominance, submission, aggression, or playfulness.
  3. Scent Marking: Foxes have scent glands located on their paws, face, and tail. They use these glands to mark their territory with scent markings. This scent helps communicate their presence to other foxes and can convey information about their identity and reproductive status.
  4. Grooming: Mutual grooming is common among foxes, especially within family groups. Grooming helps strengthen social bonds and can also communicate affection and care among family members.
  5. Chirping: Foxes can make high-pitched chirping sounds, often used by mothers to communicate with their kits (young foxes). Kits may also use chirping sounds to signal their needs to their mother.
  6. Hunting Calls: Foxes may use specific vocalizations during hunting to coordinate with other foxes or communicate about the location of prey.
  7. Mating Calls: During the mating season, foxes engage in courtship rituals that involve specific vocalizations and body language to attract mates and communicate their readiness to reproduce.
  8. Aggressive Calls: When foxes engage in territorial disputes or conflicts over resources, they may use aggressive vocalizations and body language to communicate their intent to defend their territory or assert dominance.
Red fox

Body Language

Foxes use many different methods to communicate with each other. Foxes are social animals, and when they meet members of their own family or foxes they don’t know, they use different body postures and facial expressions. Foxes are members of the Canid family, and many of the ways they communicate are similar to domestic dogs.

As with dogs, foxes can use aggression to show their intent to others. Gestures such as snarling, making their hair stand up on end, appearing larger, or arching their back are used. Standing upright with their tail erect and ears pricked can indicate dominance.

Foxes often fight with each other, especially when defending territory, and will slam the other fox to the ground, similar to how dogs fight. When reprimanded, the submissive fox frequently adopts a posture of crouching low to the ground, resembling the behavior of a dog.

Vixens can be seen rolling on their back, showing that they are ready to mate with a dominant male. Other signs that she is prepared to mate include licking his nose and mouth and thrashing her tail.

When a member of the same family group approaches another member, they will wag their tail from side to side while running forward. Their ears press against their head and a huge grin can be seen. They often crouch down to show they are submissive to the family group. Family members can be seen playing with each other, with an arched tail and flattened ears indicating their intent.

Facial expressions are also used to communicate. Staring shows a sign of dominance while looking away shows submission, with an open mouth indicating playfulness.

Foxes can be noisy and are often heard panting like an excited dog does. They usually try to nuzzle the other fox, pulling at its fur playfully.

Fox cubs often welcome back their mother from a hunting trip, in the same way, pulling at her fur or biting at her mouth. This is especially seen when the cubs are young, triggering the mother to regurgitate food.

As the young grow up, food becomes scarce as the colder months draw in. Foxes try to avoid fights, but these cannot always be avoided. If two foxes cannot back down, they will stand next to each other with their back and tails arched. If neither backs down, they will start to push each other.

Male foxes usually bite when fighting, with vicious strikes to the neck and head. Vixens generally fight on their hind legs, using their forelegs to push and paw at the chests and ears of their opponent. Many people think that this is why you hear them scream, but the fights almost occur in silence, with just a clicking noise from the back of the throat.

Foxes use the Earth’s magnetic force to navigate. Find out more here.


Foxes use about thirty different groups of sounds based on over forty forms of sound production. Foxes can recognize individuals from their calls.

Foxes can communicate over short distances and long distances using vocalizations. They learn to make these from a young age, with cubs making a whining sound while still underground, especially when cold or hungry. The sound attracts the mother, who will give them the attention they need.

As they get older, the cubs will develop the sounds they make into a rhythmic call with three or four yelps or barks. This call is created when the cubs are isolated from each other or their mother. Vixens can call individual cubs with their voice, using a combination of huffs, clucks, and coughs to call them.

At four weeks, cubs will start fighting with each other while still in their dens. As the young emerge from their burrows at this time, the vixen will bark a distinctive warning to warn them of any danger. If the vixen is far from its shelter, this will be much louder.

A warning to the cubs is almost like a quiet cough when close to the den. The mother will bark continuously to frighten off predators, giving the cubs time to return to the safety of their underground tunnels.

Most fox vocalizations are quiet, but a loud ow-wow-wow-wow is used to mark their territory. They can also be heard bark-yapping to contact group members over long distances.

If you live in an urban area, you will probably have heard a fox screaming. The first time you hear a fox scream, it will probably scare you. It sounds like a woman being attacked, and many people have phoned the police after hearing a fox scream.

Foxes can often be heard screaming during the night, and this generally happens in the winter months. Foxes scream to attract a mate and often while mating. The vixen usually makes the scream, signifying that she is ready to mate. A bark from a male can often be heard in answer shortly afterward.

Males do sometimes scream, but this is used for a different reason. Males use a short, explosive scream to warn their rivals to stay away from their mates.

When fighting, foxes often use high-pitched chattering with howls and yelps called gekkering. Fox cubs often make this sound while play-fighting.

If you want to know more about why foxes scream, I have written this article.

Photo of fox


Foxes have a great sense of smell and communicate using a range of scents, including urine and feces. They use these to mark out their home range and can often be seen and smelled around people’s houses.

Feces are left in areas where other foxes can see them. They can often be spotted on fence posts, gates, garden paths, ponds, and rockeries. If they find a new object that interests them, they may also mark these. These often include toys or boots left in the garden, so check any toys left out overnight before your children play with them.

Foxes use their noses to smell urine deposited by other foxes. These can be strongest on cold, autumn days when the whole garden can smell ‘foxy.’ A fox’s sense of smell is much better than ours, and they can smell urine from a long distance.

Urine contains a lot of information for foxes, and they can recognize which individual left it. This helps them know who is in their territory and if an intruder or a family member has left it. Urine also contains hormones that help males find a female ready to reproduce as the urine contains information about their reproductive state. Male foxes lift their legs like male dogs, while vixens crouch when urinating.

Foxes use scent glands to mark territories. These are contained in different parts of their bodies. Foxes use their tails to communicate, and they also contain scent glands on the upper surface near the root of the tail. Their feet also have scent glands that leave their scent while walking.

The most crucial scent glands for foxes are inside the anus. These scent glands are used to mark objects or on their droppings to increase the odor.

Foxes will often mark each other with their scent glands while playing, especially during mating season. They can also be seen rolling on objects to add their own smell. Foxes are smelly animals, and you will often be able to notice their smell in your yard.

You may have seen foxes around, but do you know where they live? Find out in this article I wrote

Which Foxes Live In North America?

There are several species of foxes that can be found in North America. The most common fox species in North America include:

  1. Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes): The red fox is the most widely distributed and adaptable fox species in North America. It can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, grasslands, and urban areas.
  2. Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus): The gray fox is another common species found in North America. It is known for its ability to climb trees, which is a behavior not typically seen in other fox species.
  3. Swift Fox (Vulpes velox): Swift foxes are native to the Great Plains region of North America. They are known for their speed and agility.
  4. Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis): Kit foxes are found in the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico. They are smaller in size compared to other fox species.
  5. Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus): While primarily found in the Arctic regions, the Arctic fox can also be seen in parts of northern Canada and Alaska.
  6. Island Fox (Urocyon littoralis): Island foxes are endemic to the Channel Islands of California. They are smaller than mainland foxes and have adapted to their island environments.

References And Further Reading

Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss (Essential reading for everyone)

Wild Mammals in Captivity: Principles and Techniques for Zoo Management by Devra G. Kleiman, et al.

The Red Fox: In Biology and Management by R. L. Phillips and C. M. Annis.

Foxes: Behavior, Management, and Ecology by Stephen Harris and Claudio Sillero-Zubiri.