Rufous Howls, by Charles Wood

For several years I’ve visited a nearby field to watch two coyote parents whom I named Mom and Dad. In November 2012 I found that a new coyote couple had replaced Mom and Dad as the field’s resident coyotes. I named them Rufous and Mary.

One possible difference between Mom and Dad’s behavior compared to Rufous and Mary’s is that Mom and Dad did not seem to howl at emergency vehicle sirens. Consider my August 22, 2012 post:  A Brief Show.  The video included there showed Mom ignoring both the siren and her youngsters’ howls in reply. My general impression after many observations was that Mom and Dad just didn’t bother with howling back at sirens. I always thought that restraint showed how intelligent Mom and Dad are.

In contrast, the video included with this post shows Rufous howling at sirens. A little earlier, Rufous and Mary, both hidden, were howling at the sirens.

A Brief Show, by Charles Wood

Mom and her puppy were waiting around when a siren sounded in the distance. The puppy got hidden pack members to join it for some vocalizing. Mom, on watch, did not join in. I didn’t have time to properly set my tripod and the noise from passing cars almost entirely drowned out the coyotes. A minute later the puppy had hidden itself and the show was over.

Three At Dusk, by Charles Wood

Here in LA County Sunday I finally saw three of my coyotes just as I got ready to call it quits. A young one came out to wait. It soon hid in the brush. Mom came up just a bit later from the south. She stopped and, with her child hidden nearby, immediately started to howl. She howled unanswered for several long breaths. Then others joined her howling and yipping even though they were a few feet away! It is when the others joined in that I switched on the video. Mom’s voice, though hard to distinguish, is the highest. She has a thin and very high voice. Sunday was the first time I heard it. Most of Mom’s howling was not in my direction. She only turned my way when she was more or less done.

Six seconds into the video a rabbit decides to relocate. Mom heads to her family nearby and the video is cut before she goes into their hiding place camera right. When the video resumes, Dad heads camera left, their child comes out, and Mom pees camera right. It is Mom who pushes her child away from Dad. In that segment it is clear her milk has come in. Note that the child comes back in ten seconds. Mom holds perfectly still for Dad’s inspection of her and the child gives them more space. Dad next seems to feel a choice is required of him: follow Mom and child camera left or deal in some way with me. Maybe trying to decide, he sits and scratches. Dad then pees where Mom had. Unfortunately, the child did not and I don’t know if it is male or female. After more cavorting they head east. They exit where the rabbit was last seen, though they don’t seem interested in finding it.

I should mention that I have had an second dog with me for a few months when I watch for my coyotes. Both Holtz and Lucas, an eighty-five pound German Shepard Dog, watched their wild dog cousins Sunday with interest, standing silently with me on the riverbank.

Mom’s howling was unexpected. I’ve seen them reunite at the same spot several times. Many more times I’ve seen one or more coyotes there waiting patiently for other family members to show up. They arrive and they wait, but I’ve never seen any howl for others. The obvious difference is that Mom recently had her pups. Maybe Mom’s anomalous howling was for being in a hurry for being away from her pups. Maybe not. She may not have been summoning the others with her howl, may have known they were right there. She may have just felt like howling.

Where are this year’s pups? It is the same question I posed last year upon seeing Mom with her milk in, but no pups around. Who was with the pups, or, were there any? My guess is that last year she had a small litter. The young coyote in the video is probably one born in 2011 and it has taken me a year to see it.

This year I’m not sure if the adults in the pack are more than the three in the video. I suppose Mom, who has successfully raised a few litters, is in the habit of leaving newborns behind in their den. I have to assume she knows what she is doing. I think the fact that she is out, apparently taking a break from newborns, means that there are more than three coyotes in the pack this year.

Coyotes Use Dens Only For Pupping

It may come as a surprise that coyotes do not use dens year round. They use the dens to give birth to their pups and as a place to nurse their young — whelping. The pups move out soon after these beginnings, however, they retain use of the well hidden areas around the dens — these become their secret resting places. Most coyote families retain several of these areas for their use. The pups are moved regularly to escape flea buildup and as a safety measure. I think of  a coyote den as being similar in usage to a bird’s nest: it is a temporary “nursery”. However, the nest, if it is still somewhat intact, may be fixed up the next year to be used again. This is how the coyote dens I’ve seen work. People are constantly asking me where the dens are, and I have to respond that, unless they are having pups, there are no dens: coyotes sleep out in the open and can sometimes be seen doing so. See my posting of July 15, 2010: Sleeping and Resting Right In The Open.

The den is dug by both parents-to-be on sandy hillsides and steep creek banks, under logs or rocks, within underbrush and in open areas where the digging is easy. These are always areas chosen for protective concealment, but also, they are places that can be watched by a coyote parent from some distance, again for protective purposes. Not all coyote dens are made by coyotes themselves: coyotes sometimes dig out and enlarge holes dug by smaller burrowing animals, such as badger or fox dens. In suburban and urban areas coyotes may dig dens in golf courses or in other vacant lots, under sheds and under culverts and storm drains.

Dens are usually three to six feet below the surface and can run from only a few feet to 50 feet into a hillside.  The dug out tunnel leads to a large chamber, which often has a second or even more entrances that are better hidden than the digging entrance.  Active dens are hard to find because of the various entrances — and because coyotes are very careful not to lead anyone there. Coyotes have not one, but several dens which they move between, not only to protect the pups from predators, but also to protect the pups from the fleas and other parasites which build up.

A coyote will fiercely defend its den if it believes the pups are in danger, even charging full-grown grizzlies who came too close. This is why dog owners are warned to keep their dogs far away from coyotes during pupping season. Pups are born from March thru mid-May, and then are nursed for 4-6 weeks. But the end of nursing is not the end of “pupping”. I’ve seen mothers fiercely defend pups who are approaching two years of age when dogs go after them. It is best to respect coyotes and allow them the space they need to feel safe.

Here is a wonderful link to a video of pups emerging from their den for the first time, produced by BBC Worldwide. It is called Coyote Cub Singing, and shows a very young coyote pup producing his first high-pitched howl!! Also, see more coyote pups emerging from their den.

MORE Howling by Two Then Three Maybe

A siren in the distance caused this howling session. I’m hearing sirens all the time these days, and that must be the reason I’ve been hearing coyotes more often — something which was rare during daylight only a month ago. Here the howling began by one coyote which was joined by a second coyote only a few yards away. I’m pretty sure a third one joined in from the distance, because one of the original two coyotes ran off for a moment and returned with a third. By the time the third one joined the group, the howling was over, but this one may have joined in from the distance. Coyotes howling always sound like many more than there really are. The howling served as the occasion for a joyful reunion with kisses and hugs, and shaking: this is how coyote families party!  Howling may serve for various coyotes to assure contact with each other: “hey, I’m fine over here, how are things over there”? . Hear recording #7.

In this instance, immediately after the reunion, one of the young male coyotes tried to dominate the other –notice ears down and to the sides of the bullied fella. Be that as it may, this bullied one is learning to slip out of the grasp of his dominating sibling.

How far away can a coyote howl be heard? This depends on many circumstances, but you can be sure that the coyote can hear further and more clearly than we humans can. Wind, physical terrain and what is on it, other noises all serve as interference and can make coyotes close by sound more distant. Maybe this is why coyotes often howl from the tops of bare hills. I have heard  coyotes about 1/8th mile away respond to a siren on a quiet and still evening, with another coyote — barely audible — responding from afar  — I might guess that coyote to have been half of a mile away —  it’s a guess.

Three Coyotes Respond To A Siren

Three coyotes howling (#6) in response to a siren, with some bass in the background added by a dog — this is the first minute of the recording. The last 4 minutes turns into barking by one of the coyotes with a second one howling occasionally — it went on less intensely for a long time in response to dogs and onlookers on a path close by.

Howling Party of Three

Today I saw three coyotes out in a park before walkers or dogs arrived. They were exploring, looking for each other, hunting — all pretty casually. When the dogs arrived, they moved off to the side and up a hill to watch — and they intensified their watch of each other. People leashed their dogs, so no dog problems resulted. When these dogs left the park, two of the coyotes stayed together, wandering further on and eventually up a steep incline; the other coyote appeared to stay where it was.

More dogs passed the group of two coyotes without incident, and then, a soft fire-engine siren could be heard in the far distance. Such a faint sound doesn’t normally produce a reaction from the coyotes. But the younger of the two coyotes on the hilltop began barking in response, and then the one close by joined in. Most of the sounds on this recording are of these two yipping away. But you can actually hear the deeper and longer howl of the third coyote in the distance. So this recording is of three coyotes, though, as always, it sounds like many more voices than that.

When the howling had finished, the third coyote came bounding up the hill where the other two were seated. There were the usual frenzied hugs and kisses and then the three of them ran off. I could not photograph as I recorded, so there are no images of the howling itself. However, both coyotes which I could see remained seated initially as they howled and then walked around each other as the pitch and squeaks got higher! There are a number of recordings listed on this page, so look for the one labeled #1: THREE HOWLING.

A Morning of Sounds: Sirens, Howls, Squeals of Joy & Affection

The first sounds of the morning consisted of the wailing sirens of a fire engine — this interrupted the initial quiet of the morning when I arrived in the park.

Within less than a minute there was a coyote response:  howling.  I was only able to record one short section at a very great distance. This is the first actual howling, as opposed to barking, which I’ve been able to record. It is very different from the barking. The barking in our parks has always been a response to dogs. Howling is not about this: there were no dogs in the park at this time. The howling was a definite response to the sirens and only to the sirens. And I’m pretty sure I could hear another coyote in another distant park, far, far away, responding to the same thing: was it a kind of “community” response? HOWL.

After the howling was over, I walked towards where the sound had come from. The coyote I had seen and heard had come down from her perch on the horizon and was now on a trail. I watched her as she immediately met up with her two offspring from last year — yearlings. I have seen the intense warm affection with which the coyotes of a family greet one another, but today there were very clear audible sounds included: it resembled the squeaking sound of puppies — even though these young ones are fully grown. The sounds were clear and continuous until the greeting was over: it was kind of an affection frenzy.  Unfortunately, I did not get a recording of these sounds. I’m including the photos of the greeting — all blurred because of the early hour, and I have the howling recording. Update: I was able get some of the “squeals” — press the HOWL link above to get there!

A Coyote Is Intruded Upon, yet again, by a Dog

The only time I have ever heard a coyote yipping has been after it was intruded upon. I heard a coyote yipping, the same coyote, both yesterday and again today. The yipping is a distressed, high-pitched barking. It may go on for 20 minutes or more. It appears to be the coyote’s way of complaining. In the parks where I have heard it, it always has been caused by a dog. A dog had either chased the coyote, or came in too close to it. A human intrusion, such as throwing stones to ward it off, could possibly cause the same barking reaction from a coyote, however, a coyote is more likely to flee this scenario. By yipping, the coyote is both voicing its discontent and standing its ground, albeit at a distance, as far as I have seen. Please keep your dogs leashed when a coyote is around.

And now I’m seeing coyotes react to individual specific dogs walking about 100 feet away. These are usually dogs which have  chased or intruded on the coyote in the past. But also, now, I’m seeing that a coyote will feel intruded upon if specific dogs “eye” the coyote on its perch — possibly in an antagonistic way — something like giving the coyote “the evil eye”. In addition to the complaining and standing up for itself which I’ve seen when a dog actually chases it, the coyote’s barking may also be voicing its territorial claim.

I know a number of people who think, “Well, it’s a coyote and that’s what they do: they yip.” However, there is always a reason for the yipping; it never occurs without cause.

No Puppies?

It is pupping season, females are having their pups. It has been noticed that the amount of resources and territory size seem to affect litter size. In an urban park with limited resources, the litters that I am aware of from previous years were small in size: one or two pups is what I have seen.

But why would a female coyote not have pups at all this year? My husband suggested that she might not have found the right guy! This is a likely possibility since we have not seen a male around in her area. However, males have made their rounds in the past, why not now? Another possibility for no pups is that any puppies didn’t survive for long. Apparently there is only a 5-20% survival rate for coyote puppies. Although there will be no way to tell for sure, there are various indications that there might have been puppies that did not survive the week after birth to a female who has had pups for the last two seasons. I’m putting this in here only as a possibility — the thought occurred to me.

Around mid-April there was definitely a change in behavior patterns for this coyote. This coyote had remained exceedingly calm during the previous few months, only to become “edgy” and “touchy” for a few weeks in mid-April, especially in her reacting more immediately to dog interferences from a longer distance away, but also in her need to “move on” and not loiter. A “purposefulness” seems to have returned to her which she has not had for the last few months. Then I became aware of a time stretch when this coyote did not come out into the open. Of course, maybe I just missed her, but because of other indicators, I am thinking of another possibility.

During this period of absence, on the night of April 21st, at 11:00 pm, there was a family howling session. The family howling could very well have been a “farewell” to pups who did not survive. We have not heard the “group” howling in a while. Please see my posting on “A Coyote Story”. Few people realize the extent of mourning that goes on in the animal kingdom, that animals have intense feelings. The one first-hand observation which I have of an animal mourning is that of a Mourning Dove. This dove decided to nest in a window box of ours, so I was able to see the progression. I saw when the first egg was put down on April 28th and then I saw the mother sit on it all the time. Then I noticed fluff underneath her, and then, wow, I saw that there were actually TWO chicks in there! Then, on May 20th, tragedy struck. No longer was she in the nest. We rushed down to the porch below to find remnant feathers. We didn’t connect the dots until this happened: for the previous two days there had been two ravens hanging around the area. We all mourned this loss. However, it was the mother’s behavior that was so heart wrenching. The next morning she returned to the roof edge of the house next door, looking into her nest, and morned loudly all morning. She just stayed in that one location cooing her sorrow. We awoke the next morning to find ONE new egg in the nest — she abandoned it. Was there a message in leaving this lone egg?

Then, AFTER this coyote group howling session, yet still during the period when I noticed this coyote’s “absence” I spotted a young member of her “family” carrying food off to the den area: might this have been to feed a mother — an instinctual need to help out which kicked in because this young coyote had not totally understood death? This was on April 23rd. Family members often bring food to a new mom so that she can remain in a den to feed her new pups and keep them warm. Of course, she has to emerge for water, but helping with the food allows her to stay for longer periods of time with any newborn puppies.

This female can now be seen at times ranging with her full-grown pups from last year — it now is an adult pack of coyotes, with the dominant mom who is looked up to. There is no sign of denning or pups in this particular group. Her previous regular patterns of behavior have changed: she seems more vigilant, more purposeful and more on the move.

Three Disturbances in One Morning is Too Much

Most coyotes you might pass in the mornings in the parks are on their way “home”. For the most part, they are shy so they don’t linger where they can be seen for too long — they prefer not being seen at all. However, they might stop out of curiosity: “what are you doing and where are you going?” Soon they will have ducked into the underbrush, and they are gone.

The few bolder coyotes, usually mothers and leaders of their families, don’t mind being seen at a distance on occasion. Until they go “home”, they might sit in a protected spot high up where they can rest in peace, like the little bull Ferdinand in the story book, and where they can keep an eye on things. If these coyotes are disturbed, interfered with or chased, they will complain loudly and openly rather than just run away, and they may turn around to defend themselves. I watched as this type of coyote was interfered with three times today.

I arrived at the park in time to hear the distressed barking that a coyote engages in after it has been chased or disturbed. This intense barking can go on for as long as 20 minutes. I decided to follow the sound and found the coyote still engaged in its complaining. Although I had not arrived in time to see what actually caused the complaining, I assumed that the group of walkers I was hearing had had an encounter with the coyote, and this distressed barking was the result of that. After taking a photo, I left the coyote barking, and continued up a hill on my walk.

Soon afterwards, I found this same coyote, calmed down, in a different part of the park, on a ledge where it had stationed itself. I watched it and took photos for a while. It relaxed most of the time, but stood up now and then when a runner or dog on a nearby path caught its attention. It always went back to its perch after these had passed.

THEN things changed. The coyote bolted up and stared at something on the path below which I could not see. The coyote got flustered and began running away as a woman yelled for her dog which was now chasing the coyote . The dog pursuing the coyote was a very large German Shepherd. The coyote ran towards a more protected part of the park and started, for a second time, 20 minutes of distressed barking. The dog owner must have grabbed her dog because I did not see it again. Meanwhile, the coyote continued its complaining, keeping its eyes on all paths that might lead to where it was. I have seen that these incidents only happen with unleashed dogs. Although everyone knows that coyotes are in the area, not everyone wants to take the precaution or responsibility of leashing a dog they know might disturb the coyote.

The coyote then trotted a little ways in the direction where the dog had come from, where it continued barking for a short time. The barking session then ended with a few little breathy grunts. The coyote, now calmer, walked back over to the ledge where it had been resting before the German Shepherd chase. The dog and owner were gone.

And now, there is an important point I would like to make. These two incidents may have emboldened the coyote somewhat. If they had not occurred, the coyote may not have gone into a defensive mode or set herself up to be ready when a third dog appeared. What I’m seeing is that if several dogs chase a coyote or interfere with it, the coyote’s defenses may build up. If one person lets their dog confront the coyote, it makes it harder for other dog owners to deal with the coyote which now has its ire up and is emboldened and feeling defensive.

The reason I say this is that I then watched a THIRD disturbance for this coyote — the third in one morning. Right after this last incident had subsided, a female runner could be seen jogging with her two Weimeraners. These also were unleashed. The coyote saw them and stationed itself to watch from a place where dogs could actually reach it — wasn’t this a bit provocative? The coyote now seemed prepared for defending itself if it were chased. As the woman ran by, one of her dogs went towards the coyote — maybe out of curiosity — I did not see if it was a full blown chase. The coyote was in no mood to be interfered with again and it did not head away from the dogs. Instead, coyote gave the display you see here and even ran after the lagging dog to herd it on. The woman ran ahead calling her dogs which were some distance in back of her. As this group ran out of sight, the coyote stood and watched them, and then trotted off in the other direction.

My point in writing this is to let everyone know that coyotes don’t want these interactions. They do not want to be interfered with. They want to be left alone. They want to rest calmly. But, if this type of coyote is approached or interfered with, and if its ire has already been awakened so that it is in a defensive mode, it might very well stand up for itself. ALSO, if a dog has had previous interactions of this sort with the coyote, the coyote remembers, and is prepared for this particular dog. The coyote may even make the first approach in an effort to warn the dog off before the dog even thinks of disturbing the coyote: better warn them off before they chase you.

These encounters can be avoided if we keep our dogs away from the coyotes to begin with by leashing them. Please help establish a peaceful coexistence with our coyotes. A coyote only has its self-protective instincts to follow. Dogs also have to deal with their instinctual and “playful” needs, but in this case the owner can call the shots by preventing an encounter. It is the dog owners who have control. They need to prevent all interactions so as to protect both our dogs and the coyotes.

Coyotes yipping: Coyote behavior

I have made several recordings of coyotes yipping. These recordings are not the classical howls we all know about, rather they are of a very high pitched barking — it has a violin smoothness or purity of sound. The barking has intent, is very intense, and is distressed sounding. Every episode of barking that I have heard was the result of a coyote having been chased or intruded upon on some level by a dog. Chasing is easy to recognize. Less obvious causes of the barking are antagonistic dogs simply coming too close to the coyote without actually chasing it.

And now I’m seeing coyotes react to individual specific dogs walking about 100 feet away. These are usually dogs which have  chased or intruded on the coyote in the past. But also, now, I’m seeing that a coyote will feel intruded upon if specific dogs “eye” the coyote on its perch — possibly in an antagonistic way — something like giving the coyote “the evil eye”. In addition to the complaining and standing up for itself which I’ve seen when a dog actually chases it, the coyote’s barking at these intrusive dogs may also be a statement to them of territoriality.

I used to think that the barking might be a warning to other coyotes in the family group, but I have now seen two instances where this was definitely not the case. In the first case the dominant coyote — the mother — was relaxing on a hilltop when one of her full-grown pups started a barking session not too far off — it had been disturbed by a dog. I immediately started watching for a change in the mother’s behavior, waiting for some type of reaction. There was none. This mother ignored the barking, even though I had previously seen her run to a pup’s defense when she saw a dog — a particular dog which she deemed dangerous — approach too close to one of the pups. In the second case I was on a hillside photographing one of these full-grown pups when I heard the mother in the distance — it is a signature bark which I have come to recognize. The young coyote totally ignored the barking and continued its hunt!  Now, maybe there are barks and then other barks, but in these cases the barking was not an alarm signal to others.

I have heard that coyotes will howl or bark just for the pleasure of doing so, and I’m sure they do, but I have never heard them under these circumstances. Males have a lower tonal range — barely — but you can tell them apart from the females if you hear them within a short space of time. Coyote “songs” can go on for 20 minutes or longer. I call them “arias”. Here are two recordings from two different coyotes, the first is a female — the second I thought was a female due to its behavior which I’ve seen before in females protecting an area, but I’m not absolutely sure, and the tone is lower pitched than the first:  ARIA #1 and ARIA #2. More barking and howling can be found by pressing here: BARKING and HOWLING.

Several coyotes barking at the same time can often sound like many more than there really are. I think this is because they “come in” at slightly different pitches creating dissonances that sound like many. The “howling” link above has group recordings.

Coyotes make various other sounds. There is the classical howl, there is childlike complaining in high pitched tones, there is grunting which sometimes precedes a barking episode — as if the coyote is trying to decide whether or not to go ahead with it. And there are more, but these I’ve listed are all I have heard up to this point.