Fact-Check: What Does The Fox Actually Say?

Oct 25, 2013

Chances are, you’ve seen the viral video by a pair of Norwegian comedians who sincerely sing “What Does The Fox Say?” If you haven’t seen the video, ask almost any kid or parent or  about it. Teachers have been showing it in schools and kids love this catchy pop tune about animal sounds. The addictive song is infectious and will get lodged deep into your brain and it’s hard to shake out.

When the brothers known as Ylvis reach the song’s chorus, they take some guesses about fox’s vocalizations like “Gering-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding” or “fraka-kaka-kaka-kaka-kow.”

We did a little fact-checking to find how close Ylvis get to real fox sound and called up Jake Hindman, a naturalist with the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Nature Center in Cape Girardeau and an animal call expert. He said there are two native foxes in Missouri, the grey and the red fox. Both make several vocalizations.

“Just like any animal, they use that for communication,” Hindman said. “It may be for a male to find a female from a breeding standpoint. It may be a pack nature or a family type group where they’re trying to communicate and find out from a social aspect or to find food. But there’s a number of vocalizations they make."

Jake dug up some audio clips of some real, authentic fox vocalizations. Below is a red fox:

So far, that doesn’t sound too close to the video. The gray fox is even farther from the song:


Hindman said people typically don’t know what the fox says because they are primarily nocturnal animal."

“They’re feeding early, then they may feed again in the early evening. Then at night is when they’re most active. So when they might be calling, when they actually are making a vocalization, we may be in bed,” Hindman said.

Both red and gray foxes are spread throughout Missouri. Red foxes tend to like edge habitat, like the area where a field meets a forest, because that’s a good place to find rabbits, mice and other critters that foxes like to eat. Gray foxes live in forest habitats. They’re all over the state, too, but are more common in forested places like the Ozarks and they like to climb trees.

Foxes are all over myths, fables and literature, from Aesop's fables to Native American folklore to Dora the Explorer’s Swiper the Fox.

But a simple word to describe the fox’s call - like a dog’s “woof” or cat’s “meow” - has eluded the English language.

“It’s not a real attractive sound and it kind of blends in with some of the other animals you might hear,” Hindman said. “I’ve heard people tell me in the past that fox calls, some of them sound like owls. Which makes sense. It’s nighttime. You may hear something, you think ‘What was that?’ and you think ‘Oh, it’s probably an owl,’ but it may have actually been a fox.”

The video, Hindman said, has been great for conservation. Kids have an interest in this sly animal and are asking him, “What Does The Fox Say?” For now at least, everybody wants to know.