Coyote Voicings

Artwork by Kanyon Sayers-Roods

I have added to my Introductory Pages a writeup of Coyote Voicings — Yips, Howls and other Vocalizations: a Panoply of Sounds and Situations.

Summary: Coyote communication occurs mostly via eye contact, facial expressions and body language and it can be very subtle. Coyotes are not forever vocal as humans are; they tend to be on the quiet side — except when they aren’t! Here I explain their voice communications, based on my own daily dedicated observations over the past 11 years, and then I give about 20 examples.

Hi Dad, Wanna Play?

The pup has received a strict and heavy-handed (and probably not-expected) retort and rejection to his enthusiastic, happy invitation to play. He responds, expressing his feelings through tucked chin, ears swiveled back, squinting eyes, tight jaw — not so different from our own painful grimacing to such a retort. The flopping over is rather melodramatic, but I know human kids who might have done that!  :)) I’ve seen coyote pups react this way many times — usually when they are conflicted: it’s as though all synapses fired at once without a clear outcome!

Four Month Old Pup Howls Back at His Family / Dispersal Behavior

This video is a very short (20 seconds) clip of a youngster coyote, a little over four months old, responding to the howls of his family after a siren had sounded. He is on one side of the park alone, independently and very self-sufficiently, exploring and hunting on his own. It’s late dusk and there’s almost no light, but the camera was able to focus on this. Notice that the youngster is listening intently for the rest of the family which is far in the distance, in back of where I’ve standing to video. When he thinks he knows where they are, he takes off in their direction, running.

Interestingly, as he approached them, he veered off and went the other way, never meeting up with them. The howling had stopped by the time he reached them. Might he have decided to avoid what was going on between them? There were four other coyotes who were at the site, including Mom, Dad and two yearling siblings born last year.

I say this because it’s at this point that I and another onlooker heard strong deep warning growls. We heard them again, and then a third time. It’s not often that we hear coyotes actually growl like this because it seems to be limited to use within the coyote world between themselves, apparently to express anger or discipline. Unfortunately my recorder did not pick up the low frequency sounds.

I strained to see what was going on but could only make out that one coyote had pinned another one down and was growling at it. By focusing my camera on the light in the background, I was able to get these two photos below. Once home, where I could actually see the image, I could tell clearly that Mom was standing over her yearling daughter, exercising her dominance. Dispersion time is coming soon for that young female. Punches, nips and dominance displays as this one will increase in order to drive the youngsters off. This is an important part of the coyote’s life cycle: it keeps the population down in claimed territories.

Interestingly, Dad still grooms this female for long stretches of time and very affectionately, reconfirming his bonds and affection for her. In the families I’ve observed, it seems to be the Moms that drive out the females (who I suppose could become competitive with them), and the Dads, or sometimes male siblings, who drive the youngster males out.

Shy Mom – Brave Mom, by Charles Wood

Janet’s post from May 4th reminded me of my Mom coyote from about 7 years ago. Janet noted that it took courage for her coyote to message a dog that in the past had chased that coyote. I agree.

My mom coyote was shy when I first ran into her. She had shown herself to me and my dog Holtz as we wandered around in her territory. I didn’t know how to communicate with Mom coyote and had some vague hope that we would become friends. She showed herself and so I decided to sit down. I did sit down and so did Mom. She seemed pleased that I had sat. However, being friends wasn’t in the cards.

Shy Mom


The Shy Mom photo is her at what turned out to be an easy entrance to her den area. She chose to stand her ground where pictured, barring Holtz and my progress into the brush. We moved toward her. She went back into the brush. I couldn’t see where she was so I went forward. She came out as soon as we stepped forward. That was a message that was clear and I left.

Mom – Braver


Later I thought I had such a good picture. I was close up to her and there was a lot of detail in it. I carefully edited it as it appears in this post. What I edited out of the photo was something it took me a couple years to notice. I had edited out her full breasts and swollen nipples. I hadn’t looked carefully. Once I did look, it fully explained to me the reason she had barred the path to her den area. Yet she had been so polite. She wouldn’t make eye contact, instead averted her eyes. Previously she would shadow us and occasionally stand out nervously in the open for a while. I decided she was terminally shy.

Brave Mom

A few months later Mom became brave. With Holtz by my side and separated from Mom by a chain link fence, Mom came up to us and did a number. Then she showed us how fit and brave she was. After that day, going just by my percepts, she was no longer shy with Holtz and me. After that day Mom gave us more of the same and then some. I couldn’t help but interpret her change in behavior as her change in mind and spirit when around us. Being friends, of course, was not in the cards that Nature dealt us.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos from LA: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Coyote Speaks Her Mind to The Dog Who Chased Her Three Weeks Ago!

Three weeks ago, this coyote was chased by a dog. She fled and hid in some bushes where the dog could not reach her, and she remained there screeching distressingly for 20 minutes after the chase. An excerpt of her perturbed vocalizations can be seen and heard in the video at the bottom of this posting. This coyote normally simply flees when chased by dogs without vocalizing, so the screeching sounds were notable.

The chase must have been traumatizing because three weeks later, as can be heard in the video above, she *told-off* that dog — letting the dog know what she felt — even though there was no chase this time — just the memory of it. Please note that the dog owner is extremely respectful of the coyote and cares about her welfare. Just before the chase three weeks ago, his dog was playing in the off-leash park when the dog spotted the coyote in the distance and went after her. The owner is being much more vigilant so that it won’t happen again.

The *telling-off* incident, which is the focus of this posting today, began in the early morning with the coyote loitering calmly, close to the road, when the leashed dog and her owner appeared. The owner and dog headed away from the coyote and across the street to get to the trailhead into the park, making sure to go way around the coyote. This was the best thing to do. But the coyote had something to say. She bravely, *messaged* the dog with what I call a *halloween-cat warning display*: high arched back with hackles up, head down, snarly-face, and tail tucked under. The message: “please leave me alone.” The dog, of course, couldn’t do anything because she was leashed, but she probably grimaced some kind of message to the coyote — and I really wouldn’t know who *messaged* the other first. Note that although many people think it is their dog which is endangered by a coyote, very often it is the other way around: coyotes are small, weighing only about 30 pounds — fluffy 4-inch long fur conceals a much smaller size — while the dog in this incident, a four year old female, weighed close to 80 or more pounds.

large four-year old female golden-retriever mix

The leashed-dog and owner then climbed the hill at the trailhead. The coyote moved away as they did so, and she watched them from way back. After the walker and dog distanced themselves into the park, the coyote, too, climbed up the hill at the trailhead, apparently to keep an eye on them, remaining at the trailhead, keeping well back and a very safe distance just in case of another chase (which did not happen because the dog remained leashed). And then, surprisingly, the coyote began vocalizing her feelings, apparently scolding and/or warning that dog, as you can hear in the video above. When the dog and owner disappeared over a hill crest in the distance, the coyote followed just enough to keep them in view, and continued her tongue-lashing message — always from a very safe distance — until dog and walker were out of sight. Wow! What a spunky little coyote!

This behavior — vocally spewing out her anger and warning at this particular dog — happened again just a few days later, and now has been repeated a number of times, always and only towards this particular dog as far as we know. The second time it happened, the coyote freaked out upon seeing the dog — she was scared and ran off agitatedly, but she returned, and, seemingly very upset, delivered the same tongue-lashing tirade as she had before. It was fascinating to watch. At the same time, I want to make sure folks understand that this was not an act of aggression, but rather a communication. By simply walking away from the coyote, the owner did what is recommended. I asked the owner to please write up the *history* he has had with this coyote and he said he would — he and his dog seem to have interacted with her a while ago: this, hopefully, will help round-out an understanding of the behavior and this particular dog’s relationship to her.

HAPPY ASIDE: Yesterday, I stayed a long time at this coyote’s park, watching her relax and sleep in tall grasses where she was mostly hidden from view. If and when anyone realized she was there, they were beautifully responsible: runners ran way around her, taking her presence in stride, and dog-walkers leashed their dogs, gave her a wide berth, and walked on. YAY for everyone!!  Thank you all for making coexistence work and for being ambassadors for her welfare! One walker told me that several months ago she overheard some youths saying they would bring their pellet guns for when they saw her next time. My friend took their photo and told them that if she ever heard about it, she had their photo and would turn them in. Again, thank you!

Precept or Percept? by Charles Wood

In her post on messaging, Janet quoted some material and shared her thoughts about it. I wanted to also comment on the following: “One individual suggested that he thought it might not be a good idea to give-in to the coyote’s demands by leaving — he thought this might be teaching the coyote the wrong *lesson* — that it might be best to *push your way through*. He has had good results with scaring the coyote off, but the coyote continues to habitually follow him and his dogs.”

Pat-1

How do we interpret coyote behavior? From precept or from percept and instinct? From an idea? Or from what it looks like and what it feels like? Pat 1 isn’t being hospitable. It’s rude. The message isn’t so clear with the two photos of my Dad coyote of years gone by.

Dad 1 is charging. Dad 2 is the stance Dad took after he halted his charge. Note that there is a chain link fence separating us that doesn’t show in the two pictures.

What should I have done about Dad charging and then halting, both done as a way for Dad to message his displeasure at my dog and my presence? Should I have acted from a precept like “…it might not be a good idea to give-in to the coyote’s demands by leaving….”, or, should I have acted, well, like what then? I did wonder at the time if by my behavior I was encouraging something that later might not be good for Dad or for another person. At the time I thought, well, at least I was holding my ground. But there’s more to it.

Dad-1

When Dad halted his charge he did stand as pictured. After that encounter, and after a couple previous years of similar encounters, Dad’s behavior toward me changed. He was much less confrontational after that day. I can describe from memory how Dad’s behavior toward Holtz and me changed.

As Janet pointed out, much of coyote messaging behavior is patterned, ritualistic. We know that coyotes are territorial. And we know that at times they are more territorial than at other times. That day Dad was highly territorial and charged my dog Holtz and me because he had pups around. However when the pups were older, my coyotes weren’t to be seen. They were there, but with older youngsters Mom and Dad would not bother with us as much. However, I did notice a change in Dad’s manner toward us when younger pups were around for Dad to protect. Dad would still message us. Yet he would do so without his former vigor. For example, at times when he saw us he would saunter over in our direction, kick up a little dirt, and then wander away. Or at times he would not message us at all. When Mom coyote was around, she would message and Dad would also, but with less vigor. That’s how his behavior changed. The question remains as to why his behavior changed. As to the question of why his behavior changed, at issue is whether or not Dad from reflection, from thought, made a decision to change his behavior toward Holtz and me. I acknowledge that I don’t have an objective basis from which to answer the question: “Did Dad’s behavior change because he thought it over and decided to change his behavior, or did his behavior change for another reason, or for no reason at all?” The answer to that question is presently beyond the reach of science and I want to be clear that the following speculations about Dad’s mind are my subjective assessments of why Dad’s behavior changed.

Dad-2

It is a guess for me to say that the Dad 2 picture shows why Dad changed. My guess is that in the moments before, during, and after the Dad 2 picture was taken, Dad formed a judgment about a couple years of his messaging experiences with Holtz and me. The basis for my guess is ‘vibes’ I felt that day as I photographed Dad coyote. So the following is a story I tell myself based on vibes. My account has value to my poetic self as a story, but only has value to my scientific self as evidence of the workings of one aging human male’s own subjectivity.

What I felt when Dad was halted and looking at us, looking into the camera, was that Dad was just flummoxed by how Holtz and I behaved. Here he had peed, pooped, scraped dirt, and charged. None of that worked for him. Holtz and I just kept standing there. I kept taking pictures. And you can see from the Dad 1 picture how earnest Dad was and you can imagine how uneasy that charging behavior of his could make me feel. In the Dad 2 picture, I felt sorry for him, he seemed to recognize that whatever he did, it just didn’t do any good. I could sense the gears grinding in his head as he contemplated the situation. I could tell the gears were grinding slowly. I felt bad for putting him in a mental situation where he was shown to be ‘slow’.

From Dad’s point of view, we hadn’t moved, reacted, or responded to his messaging behavior. I regard it as fair to say that Dad engages in messaging behavior to effect change. I regard it as fair to say that Dad could tell he wasn’t effecting change by his behavior toward Holtz and me. I regard it as speculative to wonder if Dad recognized Holtz and me as dysfunctional compared to all the other animals in his community. Why dysfunctional, speculatively? Because I, as a human animal, didn’t know how to act like all the other animals Dad had experiences with. I regard it as fair to say that almost any other animal must have given Dad respect in such situations and left the area. Spring is the time in nature where we all gorge. The babies of other species are abundant, easy to catch, chew, and swallow. That’s why we get escorted away by coyotes. They want to prevent their offspring from being eaten. But as to Dad, I had often wondered why he was so slow to realize we weren’t a threat. Well, he was slow because after all, Dad was a coyote. I wondered during those years if he would ever go off script, if he was capable of that. As it turned out, he did go off script.  It took a couple years for him to go off the script of his ritual behaviors. Again, if I consider that Dad thought it all over, it’s just my interpretation of why he changed. If someone said Dad, in the moment pictured, tarried from a bout of bad gas, then I couldn’t with evidence refute it.

If Dad thought, well, what did he think? My story is that Dad thought Holtz and me were mentally about the slowest animals he had every come across. We just didn’t get it, we didn’t know how to read plain animal-ese. And we seemed incapable of learning simple animal-ese. And so he began to disregard us as hopelessly irrelevant although he could not convince his wife, Mom, of that fact. She would visibly be upset with him when she saw that he had relented. She would get real irritated by him over that. Mom and Dad were married alright, yes they were. Kids coming, kids all around and Dad becoming unreliable? Not in her world. She just took up the slack and had an evil eye for him over that.

Again, if I sound like I’m anthropomorphizing, then you are probably looking at my story from precepts of science. The beauty of science is that science will change its ‘mind’ when provided with a supportable basis for a particular change.

Posting written by Charles Wood. Visit Charles Wood’s website for more coyote photos from LA: Charles Wood. His work is copyrighted and may only be used with his explicit permission.

Social Communication After A Siren

This vocalization here is the flip side of the “Stormy Monday” posting which depicted distressed vocalization by a coyote who had been pursued by a dog. I have seen that two vocalization types predominate in urban areas: 1) the distressed howls and yips due to the intrusion of a dog, and 2) The cheery howls and yips during greetings and long-distance social communications, which can occur at any time of the day or night.

These vocalizations here — although the one close by sounds a bit harsh at first due to the coyote’s proximity to the microphone — is a much more gentle and peaceful communication than in the Stormy Monday posting, engaged in by two coyotes after a siren has sounded. In this case, the coyotes are simply confirming their unity as a family, their well-being, location, and no doubt more about their mundane situation. It also may serve as a territorial message proclaiming ownership of the turf by the family: in other words, a confirming “Keep Out” message to other coyotes in the distance.

Coyotes are able to convey, who they are, where they are and how they are doing, something like: “Hey over there, how’s it going and where are you? I’m fine, looking forward to seeing you, nice hearing from you, see you soon!” The variety of sounds produced by each coyote often makes it sound as though there are many more coyotes than there really are. They produce a variety of tones, pitches, modulations, and inflections of their various sounds. The unique combinations, lengths and use of these various articulations form signature howls for each coyote. I myself can distinguish a number of coyotes from each other simply because I know their very individual howl patterns. Female voices tend to be higher pitched than the males.

 

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