How Far Can You Hear A Coyote Howl?

Someone asked me this question, so I’ve been paying attention to it: How far away can you hear a coyote howling?  How sound travels, and how well we hear these sounds, are determined by conditions which aren’t always the same. So, for instance, if there are hills or trees in the way, if there are other ambient noises in the environment, if the wind is blowing, which way the coyote is facing — all of these influence the distance at which you will hear a coyote: whether you hear it at all, and how loud it sounds. See Charles’ posting of August 22, right below this — the coyotes are not so audible.

On a very still evening, when there are no extraneous sounds around and when human activity and traffic have ceased, the sounds might travel pretty far — maybe a good half mile or further — that would be my guess. But only a few days ago I thought I heard a coyote — I say “thought” because it really was not clear whether or not this is what it was at first. When I decided that indeed it was a coyote howling, it sounded far, far off. But it turns out that the coyote and I had not been so far apart. We had been on opposite sides of  a very small hill, the coyote was about a minute’s walking distance from where I was. It sounded far off because there was sound interference from a strong wind which was carrying the sounds away from me, from the hill and trees, and from other ambient noises — the sound did not travel well. By the time I could actually see the coyote at about 200 feet from around the hill — no more hill or trees between us — the wind had died down and the howling sounded quite loud.

In addition, there is variation in human hearing.  Young kids can hear better than can adults. Someone told me that kids in a classroom were setting their cell phones so that they, but not the teacher could hear the ring — the kids knew about this hearing discrepancy! If you take friends of various ages to the Exploratorium in San Francisco where they have a device which tests your hearing, you will find that your ability to hear certain frequencies diminishes with age beginning at age 8.

So, the conclusion is that there are many variables involved which influence how far away you can hear a coyote howl — weather conditions, the terrain, other ambient noises, the sensitivity of your own hearing, and maybe even the strength of the coyote’s voice are involved.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barbara Knupp
    Aug 26, 2012 @ 00:20:11

    To me, its another coyote mystery. Sometimes I hear coyotes at night and they seem fairly close but when I try to follow the sounds find they are further away than I thought. They sound as if there’s a large group but I doubt it. I wonder, why do I primarily hear the coyotes howl in Fall and Winter but rarely in Spring and Summer? Or is that also my imagination?


    • yipps
      Aug 26, 2012 @ 12:33:18

      I’ve noticed that only two coyotes can sound like an incredibly large group, especially when they begin the “yipping” part of their vocalizations. Also, it sounds like many more than they really are if they are in echoing areas. Although I can’t say that I have heard a particular increase or decrease in their howling between the seasons, Fall and Winter include the breeding season and I’m wondering if what you have noticed might be due to that.

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