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.

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.

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.

 

A Stormy Monday – The First Day of Spring

This video is very long at 11 minutes, but less than 1/3 the length of the dog/coyote interaction. It’s not necessary to see it to understand the post.

I donned my heavy raincoat and boots and went out to walk my son’s dog and to post some signs as the rain let up a little. When we got to the park, I thought I heard a distressed, loud scream in the far distance. I finished stapling up a sign and then became aware that the screams were occurring at very regular intervals. It had to be a coyote who was upset.

As I hurried towards the sound, I passed a dog owner who was calling and searching for her dog who got away. Okay. Now I had the picture. The coyote would be very upset because it was being pursued: Coyotes howl for two reasons in our parks: either they are communicating and responding to sirens, or they are being harassed by a dog. It was a large 70 or so pound pooch who had gone after coyotes before. I ran towards where the sound was coming from and found the dog running and weaving excitedly through a thicket in pursuit of a coyote. I could not help the owner retrieve her dog because of the little dog I had in tow, so I began documenting the upsetting activity. The coyote did a great job of keeping away from the dog with minimal effort, and when she wasn’t actually evading the dog’s advances, she screamed loudly and incisively in regularly spaced spurts — she was piqued.

Meanwhile, the owner climbed up and down the hill, over and over again, exhaustively, looking for her dog and calling him repeatedly, but to no avail. The dog would not come. Some onlookers arrived asking what all the noise was about. They, too, attempted calling the dog, enticing him to come with cookies. It didn’t help.

The coyote’s intense screams continued over a period of about 20 minutes. She was venting: expressing her anger and displeasure at the dog’s onslaughts. Most urban dogs are wary of this noise — dogs read it as a warning — most will keep away. The dog didn’t seem to approach when the coyote was howling like this. As time wore on, the screams stopped occasionally as the coyote looked intently into the thicket, watching the owner make inroads into the thicket to get  her dog.

At a certain point, the coyote stopped screaming and looked around, and began sniffing something in the air by putting her nose up high. She seemed relieved, relaxing a little, and hurried off to behind a bush. It was HIM, her mate who had arrived. Her screams must have alerted him — possibly purposefully — to come help — he was now there to aid her.  They had work to do. Now they would work as a team to fend off the dog. They proceeded to the edge of the thicket, better prepared for the dog to come after them again. They didn’t have to work hard though, because the large dog was already exhausted and the owner must have been able to grab her dog just about when the two coyotes met. When the coyotes saw the dog leave the area, they ran back and forth with their body’s wagging, wiggling and squiggling. There were body presses and nose rubs and smiles and twists. It was a more exuberant form of their routine evening greeting. I almost read these as a victory celebration.

We next saw the owner and her leashed dog walking on a path in the distance. About 100 feet behind them, on the same trail, were the two coyotes, making sure that that particular dog left the park — escorting them out. The coyotes watched the duo exit the park and then the male went back into the bushes. But the female lay down right in the middle of the path. She, too, was probably worn out from the harrowing experience. No other people except me and my dog were to be seen in the park — it was very quiet.

As she lay there, I noticed that she kept her eye on something off the path up ahead. I went to investigate what it was, and as I did so, I heard sobbing. It was a young woman, sitting in the grass in the rain under a large black umbrella, crying. I asked her if she was okay, or if I could help with anything. She told me that she was just having a very hard day.

A man and his dog then came walking down the path towards us. I called out to him that the coyote was there, and he leashed his dog. I told him about the upsetting coyote activity — that was why the coyote was lying there — and about the young woman who was having a hard day. He said, “Man, it’s just a stormy Monday”. He was about to turn to go the other way so as not to disturb the coyote, but the coyote got up, stretched, turned around and wandered down the path out of the area. So, the man continued his walk and I, too, left the area with little dog in tow.  In the video you can hear the raindrops hit the plastic I use as a raincoat for the camera. Yes, it was a stormy Monday.

Distressed Barking By Mother Coyote Due to Presence of Dogs

Parent coyotes are especially edgy at this time of year — it’s pupping season.

As this mother coyote foraged behind some low bushes, dog owners with their mostly leashed dogs walked by on a path about 100 feet away: they stopped and looked at her, though it might have been better if they had just walked on. None of the dogs approached her, though they might have communicated some kind of negativity through their facial expressions and body language. The coyote apparently didn’t like them looking at her, or she didn’t like their negative communication. OR, the dogs may simply have been too close for comfort.  I was concentrating on her, so I couldn’t see what the issue was.

Note that she begins her complaining with little grunts and heaves: it’s an emotional and distressed reaction.  As she initially grunts and heaves, she hasn’t decided to go all out with her barking. But soon, she lets loose. All the dog walkers “got it” once I explained to them what was going on: that this was an edgy mother and coyotes don’t like dogs around them. The walkers and their dogs moved on, and she soon quit her howling and then retreated into the bushes.

Her own mother, too, engaged in this exact same type of barking: it is a distressful bark and only occurs when these coyotes feel harassed or intruded upon by dogs. This type of barking is both a complaining — letting everyone know how she feels — and a communication of standing up for herself, though you can be sure that if a dog went after her, she would skedaddle quickly. The barking session shown here lasted only about three minutes, but I’ve listened to one that lasted well over 20 minutes.

Enough Is Enough!

An exasperated coyote determinedly puts an end to the howling of another coyote: “Cool It!” They were responding to a siren. Notice that the victim actually has the last word, though it’s not very loud, before they both settle down to groom themselves!

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.

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