What does the fox actually say?
By now, we all should have heard the song ‘The Fox’ by the Norwegian duo, Ylvis, right? For those who haven’t, you can find out here.
So, we’ve been taught back in school that a dog goes woof, a cat goes meow, a bird goes tweet and a mouse goes squeak… but surely (and obviously) a fox doesn’t go “ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding” or “wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow”.
But it really got me thinking… what sound does the fox actually make?
Vocalising fox by Gary Robertson
Well, back in 1963, Gunter Tembrock, a German ethologist, studied the different types of calls foxes made in the wild and found that there were 28 different types of calls. About 30 years later, Nick Newton-Fisher and his research team did an analysis on fox vocalisations and found similar results. They discovered that there were 20 different types of calls with 8 of these calls being used only by cubs (baby foxes) which indicates that foxes are pretty vocal animals!
Foxes are capable of making different sounds and these sounds can be classified into 3 main types:
- Contact calls*
- Interaction calls*
- Alarm calls*
*The audio for these calls can be found here. Pretty unusual but interesting, right?
Contact calls vary according to the individual fox and distance between the foxes. It is often made by 2 foxes as they approach towards each other. The most commonly heard contact call made by the foxes is a short ‘wow-wow-wow’ sound which slightly resembles a dog bark. However, because of their smaller body size, a fox’s bark is more high pitched than a dog’s bark. This often causes confusion amongst people as they commonly mistaken a fox’s call as an owl hooting.
When the foxes are close enough to make physical contact with each other, they produce a greeting call that is similar to the clucking of chickens. Talk about having the ability to sound like other animals!
Interaction calls vary according to the level of aggression and depends on the social status of the fox. For example, submissive red foxes will produce a high pitched whine when greeting other foxes of higher status.
Foxes fighting in the snow by Randel Toledo
Foxes can also produce a rattling or chattering sound known as gekkering. This sound is produced during aggressive encounters with other foxes in adults and during play in young cubs.
Alarm calls are usually made by fox parents to alert their cubs to danger and to take cover in the den. The sound made by the parents can be described as a long, sharp ‘waaaah’ sound at long distances but up close, it sounds like a cough.
During breeding season, a similar sound known as the ‘vixen’s scream‘ can be made by vixens (female foxes) to attract the attention of male foxes for mating. Despite the name, the vixen’s scream has been known to be made by male foxes as well. Personally, I think it sounds eerie like a scream of anguish.
Cubs sticking close to their den by Rylee Isitt
With all these various fox calls that resemble other animals, it is no surprise that most of us don’t know what the fox actually sounds like. Perhaps, Ylvis were trying to imitate the sound of foxes with their weird but funny chorus.
But, hopefully by now, you have an idea of what the fox does say and doesn’t say. Maybe the next time you hear Ylvis’ The Fox song on the radio, you can correct the chorus.
You never know… you might attract a furry, friendly visitor with ‘big blue eyes, pointy nose, chasing mice and digging holes’.