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'They cut you to the bone': Why are we hearing screaming foxes late at night?

The screams of red foxes are typically heard between December and February.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THE SCREAM OF a red fox can be one of the most horrifying things to hear in the evening, with it being so terrifying that it helped inspire the Irish legend of the banshee.

Their calls can usually be heard in winter months, throughout both rural and urban areas, and can almost be mistaken for the scream of a person.

The question is, why are foxes screaming at this time of year?

According to Collie Ennis, zoology research associate at Trinity College Dublin’s School of Natural Sciences, the screams are both a mating call by female foxes and a territorial call by male foxes.

Ennis says that the calls begin around mating season, which begins in December and usually lasts until February, around the time when nights are at their darkest.

He says that this is where the legend of the banshee likely started, with foxes screeching late at night, with people being unable to identify what was making the sound.

The screams would “cut you to the bone”, says Ennis, in particular the screams of male foxes, which sound almost human-like.

Ennis told The Journal that there is a difference between the screams of a male and a female fox, with it primarily being in the pitch of the scream.

“Male foxes are the ones that make the ‘banshee scream’, similar to a woman shrieking,” said Ennis.

“Females make shorter, shrill shrieks to attract males,” he added, saying that it is a signifier that they are in heat.

When asked if there were any other animals with similar-sounding calls, Ennis said that foxes are unique in that aspect, as there is no animal that would have a similar call.

“There’s nothing else. There are a few owls that have some very creepy calls, but nothing like foxes.”

On the difference between urban and rural foxes, Ennis says that there is an intensity within urban foxes that is not seen in those living in rural settings.

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This is due to the abundance of food within urban settings, with their territories being much smaller than they would be in rural areas.

This abundance of food will usually lead to larger family units of foxes, as more cubs are able to be supported.

There will also usually be “running battles” between male foxes in urban settings, due to these smaller territories.

Fox cubs

Ennis says that when the mating season ends next month, people will have to wait 50 days before fox cubs begin to appear.

“There will be cute fox cubs emerging from under people’s sheds later this year,” said Ennis, adding that people don’t need to be concerned about foxes and that they don’t pose a threat to people’s pets.

“It’s not something to be concerned about. They’re fascinating animals and it’s a really interesting part of nature.”

About the author:

Tadgh McNally

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