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.

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