Coyote vs Fox: How to Tell Them Apart and Spot the Differences

by Derrick | Last Updated: August 9, 2023

Spotting the difference between a fox and a coyote can be tricky, especially when they dart across your path in the blink of an eye. Despite their similar looks, these two creatures belong to different families within the Canidae group.

This blog will guide you through explicit physical and behavioral attributes that set foxes apart from coyotes. Let’s dive into the world of these fascinating species!

Key Takeaways

Physical Differences Between Foxes and Coyotes

Foxes and coyotes can be differentiated by their body size, coat color, tail shape, ear size, and leg length.

Body size

Coyotes typically dwarf foxes in size, making this a straightforward way to tell them apart. A fully grown coyote measures around 32 to 37 inches in length from head to tail and stands about 21 to 24 inches tall at the shoulder.

Weighing between 20 and 50 pounds, coyotes have sturdier bodies than foxes. On the other hand, Foxes are smaller and more delicate, with their body length usually between 18-33 inches and height at the shoulder averaging around 12-16 inches.

Their weight tends not to exceed fifteen pounds.

Coat color

Coyotes and foxes can be easily distinguished by their coat color. Coyotes typically have a more uniform coloration, with mostly gray or brown fur. They may also have white or cream-colored markings on their belly and throat.

On the other hand, foxes display a wider range of coat colors, including red, silver-gray, black, and even rare melanistic (black) individuals. Their coats often feature different shades and patterns, like patches of white on the face or tipped tails.

Observing the coat color is one of the simplest ways to tell coyotes apart from foxes in the wild. By paying attention to these distinct variations in fur coloration, you can quickly identify whether you’re encountering a coyote or a fox during your wildlife encounters.

Tail shape

Coyotes and foxes can be differentiated by their unique tail shapes. Coyotes have long, bushy tails held down low when running. These tails help them to maintain balance and serve as a visual signal to communicate with other coyotes.

On the other hand, foxes have longer, slim tails with white tips. They often hold their tails upright or curled over their backs while running. This distinctive tail shape helps foxes to navigate through dense vegetation and provides extra insulation during colder months.

Paying attention to these differences in tail shape can quickly identify whether you’re looking at a coyote or a fox in the wild.

Ear size

Foxes and coyotes can be distinguished by their ear size. Foxes typically have larger ears compared to coyotes. The ears of a fox are pointed and erect, which helps them locate prey with precision and detect sounds from far away.

On the other hand, coyotes have slightly smaller ears that are triangular-shaped and more rounded at the tips. This difference in ear size is one way to quickly spot whether you’re looking at a fox or a coyote in the wild.

Leg length

Coyotes and foxes can be differentiated by their leg length. Coyotes generally have longer legs compared to foxes, which contributes to their ability to run faster and cover more ground.

On the other hand, Foxes have relatively shorter legs adapted for agility and maneuverability in dense vegetation or smaller spaces. So, when spotting the difference between a coyote and a fox, take note of their leg length as it can provide helpful clues in identifying them correctly without confusion.

Behavioral Differences Between Foxes and Coyotes

Foxes and coyotes have different living arrangements, with foxes often being solitary or forming small family groups, while coyotes are more social and live in larger packs.

Living arrangements and social behavior

Coyotes and foxes have different living arrangements and social behaviors. Coyotes tend to live in small family groups called packs, while foxes are more solitary creatures. Coyote packs usually consist of an alpha male and female, their offspring from previous years, and the current year’s pups.

They establish territories that they defend against other coyote packs. On the other hand, Foxes typically live alone or in small family units consisting of a mating pair and their offspring.

They mark their territories with scent markings to ward off intruders. Additionally, coyotes are known for being adaptable to various habitats including urban areas, whereas foxes generally prefer wooded locations.

Regarding social behavior, both species communicate through vocalizations but use different types of calls. Coyotes are known for their distinctive howls that can be heard over long distances to communicate with other pack members or warn off intruders.

Foxes have a wider range of vocalizations, including barks, screams, and yips which they use for different purposes, such as communicating with mates or defending territory.

Hunting and feeding behaviors

Coyotes and foxes have distinct hunting and feeding behaviors. Coyotes are highly adaptable predators known for their opportunistic feeding habits. They primarily hunt small mammals like rabbits, rodents, and squirrels, but they can also feed on birds, insects, fruits, and even carrion.

Coyotes often hunt in pairs or small groups to increase their success rate. They use a combination of stalking, chasing, and pouncing techniques to catch their prey.

Foxes are also skilled hunters but tend to be more solitary in their hunting behavior. Their diverse diet includes small mammals like mice and voles and birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, fruits, and berries.

Foxes are known for their stealthy approach while hunting; they stalk their prey before making a quick dash to capture it. This tactic is especially effective when targeting smaller animals or birds.

Both coyotes and foxes exhibit similar scavenging behaviors when food resources become scarce. They will scavenge from garbage cans or even urban areas looking for easy meals. However, coyotes are generally more adept at scavenging due to their size and strength.


Coyotes and foxes have distinct vocalizations that can help in telling them apart. Coyotes are known for their piercing howls which they use to communicate with other members of their pack.

Their howls are often long and drawn out, starting off with a few barks before transitioning into a higher-pitched sound. On the other hand, foxes have a wide range of vocalizations including barks, screams, and even high-pitched cries that resemble baby crying.

These vocalizations are used by foxes to communicate with each other as well as mark their territory. By listening closely to the sounds they make, you can easily differentiate between coyotes and foxes in the wild.

How to Quickly Spot the Differences Between Foxes and Coyotes

To spot the differences between foxes and coyotes quickly, look for key visual cues such as body size, coat color, tail shape, ear size, and leg length.

Tips on identifying them in the wild

To quickly spot the differences between foxes and coyotes in the wild, here are some helpful tips:

  1. Look at their body size: Coyotes are generally larger than foxes, with adult males weighing around 30-40 pounds compared to foxes, which typically weigh between 8-15 pounds.
  2. Observe their coat color: Foxes usually have reddish-orange or brown fur, while coyotes have a more grayish or tan coat.
  3. Pay attention to their tail shape: Foxes have long, bushy tails that are often white-tipped, whereas coyotes have longer and less bushy tails that hang downward.
  4. Notice their ear size: Foxes have smaller ears, while coyotes have larger and more prominent ears.
  5. Consider their leg length: Coyotes have longer legs compared to foxes, giving them a taller appearance.

Key visual cues to look for

Look for these key visual cues to distinguish between a coyote and a fox:

Can Foxes and Coyotes Fight Each Other?

Foxes and coyotes can interact, which may sometimes lead to conflicts and potential fights.

Interactions between the two species

Foxes and coyotes have the potential to interact and even fight with each other. These interactions typically occur when their territories overlap or compete for resources such as food or shelter.

Sometimes, foxes may try to defend their young from coyote attacks. However, it is important to note that not all encounters between these species result in conflict. Sometimes, they can coexist peacefully by avoiding confrontations or establishing dominance hierarchies.

Ultimately, the outcomes of these interactions can vary depending on factors such as population density, resource availability, and individual behavior.

Potential conflicts and outcomes

Foxes and coyotes have overlapping territories, which can lead to potential conflicts between the two species. When resources in their habitats become scarce, competition for food and space may escalate into aggressive encounters.

In these situations, foxes and coyotes may engage in territorial or physical fights. The outcome of such conflicts can vary depending on factors like size, strength, and social structure of the individuals involved.

Usually, larger coyotes have an advantage over smaller foxes due to their superior size and strength. However, foxes are known for their agility and cunning behavior, which allows them to evade direct confrontation with coyotes whenever possible.


In conclusion, knowing the physical and behavioral differences between coyotes and foxes can help you easily identify them in the wild. By paying attention to key visual cues such as body size, coat color, tail shape, ear size, and leg length, you’ll be able to tell them apart with confidence.

Remember that while they may share some similarities, these two species have distinct characteristics that make each of them unique.