Oct 23 2009

Mystery Solved

Published by at 7:00 am under Mammals

Red fox (photo from the National Park Service)
For more than a week my husband and I have heard a mysterious hoarse barking in our neighborhood at night, sometimes behind our house, sometimes at the ballpark across the street.  It’s usually three to ten short hoarse barks, then it stops for a while and starts up again in another location.  The first time I heard it, it woke me at 4:00am.  I lay frozen in bed, listening.  There’s a wild thing outside!

We live in a city neighborhood where the houses are five feet apart and the backyards are 600-700 square feet so wild things are unusual, even startling, where we live.  I’ve seen birds and raccoons and groundhogs.  But larger animals?  No.  We don’t even have deer on my street.

Every night we hear the barking.  It starts as early as 8:30pm and it’s quite loud.  The neighbors turn on their outdoor lights and peer out into the darkness.  We talk about it at the bus stop, “Did you hear it last night?  What is it?”

In the beginning I ruled out red fox because I’d heard one bark in Maine and this sound is not nearly so creepy, but Wednesday night the barking was very close and downright annoying.  I had to know so I searched online again and found this excellent video of a “Vixen Barking.”  Aha!

Thursday morning she called from the wooded gully across the street an hour before dawn.  I watched from my front porch as one housecat, then another, scurried from the woods to the houses next door.  She barked again, half a block away, then crossed the street and I saw her silhouetted by the streetlight.  A fox!  Very cool. 

Why is she in my neighborhood and how long will this barking go on?  I found those answers online, too. 

  • Foxes like places that have high prey populations, especially rabbits.  We have lots of squirrels and this summer a bumper crop of rabbits
  • Foxes bark to claim territory.  Unlike distress or fighting sounds of other animals, foxes repeat the call to get the message across. 
  • Foxes pair for life but the family stays together only during the breeding season.  At this time of year the families split up and the young foxes are finding new places to live.  Our fox may be new to the area.
  • The barking will certainly end by the next breeding season – probably much sooner.  Just to prove the point she was silent last night.

Mystery solved.

(photo from the National Park Service via Wikimedia, in the public domain)

11 responses so far

11 Responses to “Mystery Solved”

  1. John Englishon 23 Oct 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Excellent. I envy you. I live in the Reqent Square area an vividly recall looking out the window one evening to see a black bear casually ambling down the street towards the business district!
    We humans are putting more pressure on wildlife by our uncontrolled urge to expand/build/dominate. I hope she stays safe.

  2. Libby Strizzion 23 Oct 2009 at 4:30 pm

    I sent this blog to my son Richard, who lives in Scituate MA, and has almost tame foxes in his neighborhood. I asked him if he’d heard the same odd barking you describe. He said he did — and now he knows why !!

  3. Kate St. Johnon 01 Nov 2009 at 11:01 pm

    November 1: Full moon & clear sky tonight. After several days of silence the fox is barking a lot this evening. I went outside in the dark to see her but there was not enough light. I heard her trot by on the leaves in the valley of Magee Field & saw her shape. Bigger than a cat, smaller than a shepherd dog. Moves like a fox. Wish I’d had a better look.

  4. Kate St. Johnon 05 Nov 2009 at 10:30 am

    November 3 at 11:49pm: Clear sky, moon on the wane. I saw moonlight coming through an upstairs window and looked out to see the moon. Then I saw a critter walking up the back alley in an area I could easily see. The fox! She paused in clear sight and barked. Yay!

  5. Kate St. Johnon 13 Jan 2010 at 9:37 am

    There’s a good BBC video of a fox hunting in snow, highlighted on the Sierra Club’s On Track blog at:
    http://connect.sierraclub.org/post/OnTrack/crazy_video_of_fox_hunting_in_snow.html

  6. Cory DeSteinon 06 Mar 2010 at 8:03 pm

    I have seen more foxes in Pittsburgh this year than any other year. In the past 2 months I have seen them in Bethel Park, twice in West Mifflin and even crossing Beechwood Blvd!! They are booming!

    In areas without coyotes that is

  7. Paulaon 11 May 2010 at 9:32 am

    The last few weeks around 11:30p.m. -12:00a.m. maybe even a little earlier in the morning there has been a Red Fox standing near our front garden gate barking a lot. This Fox has done this motion severl times over these last two weeks it is in the same spot everytime. Why?

  8. Kate St. Johnon 11 May 2010 at 9:56 am

    Foxes bark to claim (and keep) their territory and they repeat the call day after day to get the message across. Maybe this fox has a den or kits somewhere near your house.

  9. Paulaon 11 May 2010 at 2:23 pm

    What should we do we live in a farm area with 10 horses across the street and another horse farm right around the corner (these are small ones not like the Ky. ones) and from talking to the people next door they hear the fox but do not see it and we look right out our front door and it is right there. IThe only reason why it is bugging me is we have two small children, two inside/outside cats and a young dog she is on a lead rope or on a leash when we take her out side. None of us would ever try to disturb anyones den area. Should I contact a Ranger or something? Thank you

  10. Kate St. Johnon 11 May 2010 at 3:13 pm

    You don’t need to worry about your kids or dogs or cats.

    Foxes hunt alone and are looking for rodents, bird nests or whatever is smaller than they are & easy to pounce on.

    Foxes avoid people and dogs — for good reason, people use dogs to hunt them! — and cats avoid foxes. The fox also avoids attacking cats because he doesn’t want a meal that will injure him & he knows that cats have teeth and claws.

    When we had a fox in my neighborhood I went outdoors to look for it and noticed that as the fox went through the woods the cats crept out of the woods ahead of it. The cats did not run from the fox in terror — they just deliberately avoided the fox. I am sure your cats knew the fox was there long before you did and have been avoiding it in their own way for months.

    The fox will stop barking when it has no more to say about its territory. I am not sure how soon that will be.

  11. Paulaon 11 May 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Thank you☺

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