The Fox Scream

by | Mar 21, 2024

Above: The gray fox Anthony Burnett-Testa encountered in his back yard. Photo by Anthony Burnett-Testa

Small but surprisingly scary sounding

The first time I saw a red fox I ignored the “siren” of the forest. 

That siren is the blue jay. If you are hiking in the woods and hear a blue jay clamoring loudly from a tree, it has spotted a predator and is alerting the animals in the forest that danger is nearby. Similar to a fire truck with lights and horns blaring behind you, the blue jay’s shrieking tells you to watch out. 

The nearby predator could be a bear, owl, or anything that poses a threat to the creatures of the forest. In this case, it was a red fox. 

At the time, I didn’t know blue jays were sirens so I continued to hike toward the shrieking call and the trail took me to an old parking lot, surrounded by woods and dotted with small trees and bushes that were breaking through broken asphalt. 

As I entered the parking lot from the trail, one blue jay flew to my left, across the width of the lot and joined five other jays higher up a pine tree. They fell silent. As I turned to my right, I locked eyes with a red fox crouched down among tall grass, about 10 feet away from me. While staring at me, the fox took several quick steps towards my direction. 

I yelled, “Hey!” several times, each time raising my voice even louder to scare it away. The fox took a few more steps towards me and I raised my arm to protect my face and neck from a potential bite. I screamed, “Hey!” (before I thought it was going to jump) and the fox stopped, realized that this was not worth the fight, then turned and dashed into the tall grass and pine trees behind the old parking lot. 

What started as a quiet, peaceful hike turned into me taking deep breaths while my heart pounded through my chest.   

I ended that hike after the red fox retreated and I never again ignored another blue jay’s alert call. It’s sort of comforting now, knowing that a bird with a good vantage point will call out and alert the whole forest to any sign of danger. 

But that was a red fox, whose main identifying features are a white tipped tail, a reddish coat and black fur on its paws that look like boots. This past summer I surprised its distant cousin, the gray fox. The gray fox is shorter and stockier, has a black tipped tail and a peppery coat. It also has a scream that can send chills down your spine, especially in the dark of night. 

Unsettling Scream

As I took my dog out to the backyard before bed, I brought a flashlight with me and scanned the darkest base of the trees looking for coyotes that could turn my little dog into one of their “happy meals.” But instead of a coyote, the flashlight lit up a gray fox in the corner of the yard and it was not happy. Instead of coming towards me like the red fox did before, the gray fox stood its ground and screamed repeatedly, enough so that I had enough time to record its scream below.

As you can hear, the gray fox scream is so unsettling that this “bark” is easily confused with a fisher cat scream. In this case, the gray fox was using this sound as a defensive measure, which works really well because there was no way I was going to approach a sound like that. 

We have both red and gray foxes in East Greenwich and they really pose no threat unless they have rabies and attack you. Both foxes mate from January through March, with gray foxes extending their mating season into April. Both foxes can also use their screaming bark to attract mates during this time. 

I set up a camera to see if I could capture a close picture of this screaming fox. I was lucky that it came back and I caught several pictures along with some Opossums who actually tried to eat the camera and put it out of commission for a while. 

An opossum up close and personal with Anthony Burnett-Testa’s wildlife camera.

I contacted our East Greenwich Animal Control Officer Kelley McDonald and asked her what a resident should do if they spot a fox. 

“If a resident is concerned about a fox appearing sick or injured I would respond and determine if DEM should be called or an officer should respond,” she said. “Just seeing one during the day isn’t cause for alarm.” 

If you think a fox is injured or sick, you can call Animal Control at 401-886-3208. 

Fox Facts

Gray foxes have retractable claws and can climb trees to get food or avoid predators. 

Gray foxes prefer to den in dense brush, rock crevices, tree cavities and under decks, porches and sheds. Red foxes are more likely to be found in used woodchuck burrows. 

You can scare foxes out of your yard with loud noises (like my yelling), bright lights or by spraying a water hose.  

Close off outdoor crawl spaces to prevent foxes from denning underneath them. 

Foxes are crepuscular, which means they are most active at dawn and dusk. They are mostly nocturnal but it is normal to see them during the day. 

Anthony Burnett-Testa is a teacher at Cole Middle School and writes about science and the environment for EG News.

Sources 

https://dem.ri.gov/sites/g/files/xkgbur861/files/programs/bnatres/fishwild/pdf/fox.pdf

https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Wildlife/Fact-Sheets/Gray-Fox#:~:text=The%20gray%20fox%20is%20somewhat,under%20surface%20of%20the%20tail.

https://www.mass.gov/info-details/learn-about-foxes

 

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Chris
Chris
March 22, 2024 8:55 am

Saw this little red around 11pm along the east side of Tillinghast Rd couple months ago. He/she looked at me, and I just looked back and said hello. They are out there. Keeping land parcels and corridors wooded and preserved helps keep the foxes a place to thrive.

PXL_20230907_021841509
Justin Cahir
Justin Cahir
March 22, 2024 12:12 pm

Now we truly know the answer to the question: “What does the fox say?”
Great article Mr. BT!

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