Have you ever heard a coyote’s howl? It’s a sound unlike any other, especially if you are unfamiliar with the animal or its calls. Whether alone or in a group, the howl of a coyote is one of the most compelling sounds that can be heard in the wild.
Nowadays, even urban dwellers might wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of a coyote howling, barking, yipping or making another of the many sounds these perseverant canines make. The coyote is not called the song dog for no reason! But what do the coyote’s vocalizations mean?
Chances are good that if you have heard one coyote call out then you have most likely heard others respond. A pack of coyotes gives the night a chorus unlike any other animal. So this brings us to the question:
What does it mean when a coyote begins to howl?
The answer to this question is by no means a simple one, and can best be explained in several steps. The first thing to consider is just how many coyotes are calling out and what sounds they are making. The calls of one coyote can mean different things than the calls of a pack.
The coyote’s howls come in a few subcategories. A coyote who is howling alone begins the performance with a group of barks called herald barks. As with the voices of individual humans, the sound of an individual coyote’s howl is peculiar to the animal. It lets its pack mates know where it is. A lone howl can be heard over a mile away by a human and is nearly always answered by another coyote. Given their keener hearing, a coyote can probably hear another’s howl about three miles away.
The sound of the calls is also important to consider. Some sounds resemble a dog barking or a muffled whine while others can be the widely known wolf howl. Depending on the noise you hear, the animal in question is conveying some very distinct information.
A Single Lone Call
This is the most iconic of all coyote calls. The one lone howl that seems to come out of nowhere is a sound familiar to most people. If you hear a single lone call from only one animal, chances are what you are hearing is a single member of a pack attempting to locate other members. Coyotes are very social animals and will often seek out other members of their group. If you hear one call, pause and wait for the response. It will be there.
- It is important to recognize that not all coyotes belong to one pack. Coyotes generally live in families with two alpha animals (male and female) and their offspring. Most packs stay in this manner until the offspring leave the den and head out on their own.
- If you hear a single coyote call and it receives a rapid response from others, you may be hearing several different things. You may be hearing the response to a returning pack animal or an intruder in the area. These response sounds are very distinct to a trained ear, but can be lost when multiple animals join in.
A Group Chorus
This is two or more coyotes howling at the same time, either because they have met up after a period of separation or to answer the howls of another group of coyotes in the distance. Coyotes can also give a sound called a whoop during these group howls.
If you hear a chorus of coyotes in the distance, what you are hearing are members of a single pack converging together. The reasons they can have for making these types of noises can range from greeting one another to displays of dominance and unity.
The group chorus is often times a method used by a pack to mark their territory. An unfamiliar coyote who calls out in a pack’s territory may receive the chorus response in return. This announces to the stranger that this space is taken and they need to leave.
Rapid Yelping Calls
Another call that coyotes can make is a series of rapid yelping calls. These sounds are often made in response to a coyote being startled or a pup in distress. They are a loud call and are more drawn out. Think if you have ever heard a dog begin to yelp and you will know this noise.
A yelp can be a more intense sound of submission or can be a sound of surprise. How surprised the coyote is can be told by the intensity of the yelp.
This is also a popular call one may hear if they or a predator were to travel too close to a coyote den. Often times, parent coyotes will flee their den when a threat is perceived and will make rapid yelping calls in order to distract and draw the threat away from their den and potential offspring.
These sounds are distinctly different from the rapid yelping call mentioned above. They are made in quick succession and are extremely high pitched. Often times, you may hear coyotes make noises similar to this if they are hunting something as a group.
The Group Yip-Howl
This diagnostic sound is given by a pack of coyotes after they’ve reunited or before they part to go on solitary hunts. The more coyotes gather, the louder and more complex the yip-howl. This makes scientists believe this sound helps to strengthen the bonds between the individuals in the pack and let other coyotes in the area know that this is the pack’s territory. The yip howl also lets the auditor know who’s who in the pack and is accompanied by enthusiastic body language between dominant and submissive coyotes. During a yip-howl session, the male of the alpha pair mostly howls. The female also howls, but her howls are shorter and interspersed with barks and yips. This can lead to chains of coyotes yip-howling for dozens of miles. Also, when a few coyotes howl together they can sound like a crowd of coyotes, which further intimidates interlopers. Whoops are also made among the group yip-howl.
This is a howl that sounds like a question and may be used when a pack member is lost.
Coyotes growl for the same reason as dogs. It is a warning sound, though pups have been seen to growl when they play.
This is a sound prompted by a serious threat. It’s also an alarm. It starts off with a bark that escalates to howl.
This sound is made through expelling air from the animal’s mouth and nose. It is a close-in warning sound aimed at another coyote that’s forgotten its place in the pack hierarchy.
This is also a warning sound, but it is of lower intensity than a growl. It is made by an animal who’s not sure if they are facing a threat or not.
The bark is also a warning sound, but it can also be an alarm. The threat, if there is one, is low or medium. Some researchers can tell different coyotes by the quality of their barks. Barks and barks combined with howls also tell another coyote where the animal is, whether it is a pack member and its mood.
A whine is a sound made by one coyote to show submission to a dominant animal.
This is also called a woo-oo-wow and can swing from a growl to a whine and back again. It is heard when a bunch of coyotes happily meet up.
So What Does It All Mean?
Whenever you hear a coyote, it is clear that this animal is saying something. If you should hear a coyote, try to take these steps:
- Listen for distinct animals (if possible)
- Do your best to locate the direction of the sound
- Know you are generally not in danger!
Though coyotes found in the eastern part of the country are a different subspecies than those found in the west, scientists have not yet studied coyote vocalizations enough to learn whether coyotes have regional accents. Humans have a hard time differentiating between the calls of male and female coyotes.
So what are your experiences? Have you ever encountered this elusive animal or heard its cry at night? Do you have something to share or a question about coyote calling that wasn’t answered here? If so, please feel free to comment below!
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What Does Mean When Coyotes Howl Alone or Together?
As you can see there is no one definitive answer to this question, as the meaning of howling varies depending on the context and situation. When Coyotes howl alone, it can be seen as a sign of aggression or conflict. Together, they may be communicating their location to each other or welcoming visitors.
Coyotes howl to communicate with each other and to attract mates. When they howl alone, it may be a simple matter of marking their territory. When two or more co-existing coyotes howl together, it can denote various messages such as danger or warning. It’s also used for social interactions such as during courtship rituals or reuniting members of the pack after separation.
Coyotes howl for a reason, which is sometimes difficult to discern. When lone coyotes howl, they are trying to establish dominance over their packs. This behavior is usually reserved for younger male coyotes and occurs when the pack has been depleted or dispersed in some way. Older males who have held onto their territory will seldom howl alone. Instead, they will join in with other territorial animals nearby such as wolves and foxes.
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