How to understand coyote vocalizations

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Of all our wildlife, the most interesting, and most vocal, are Canis latrans, or as we less- than-scientific beings know them, coyotes.

Yes, our eastern coyotes, although close cousins, are a bit different than the western species but in all ways coyotes are coyotes and they are arguably the most vocal of all North American mammals.

Understanding sounds

We’ve all heard them but for the most part, very few of us have any idea what the sounds mean.

After all, the complete arsenal of coyote sounds can range from simple barks to wailing howls given by individual animals or even more amazing and primal, the choir like arrangements produced by groups or packs of coyotes.

Ohio Division of Wildlife Jamey Emmert, communications specialist, recently released her findings of a very detailed explanation of coyote vocalizations include some insight into the meanings of each.

For the full article, go to The Natural History of the Urban Coyote. Several researchers contributed to the project published as The Natural History of the Urban Coyote and their names and credits can be seen on the website.

After that, search for more internet sites that delve into the behaviors of coyotes. These primary predators are here to stay and try as one might to eliminate them it isn’t going to happen.

Detailed sounds

Below is a very brief version of their more detailed report. Make it a “must read”.

Types of Coyote Vocalizations:

1. Growl. This vocalization holds no mystery. A growl is used as a threat, specifically for something within close range.

2. Huff. This is the expulsion of air through the nose and mouth, and is also used as a high-intensity threat in close proximity. Huffs are used when there’s bickering over carrion.

3. Woof. This vocalization is made as both a low-intensity threat and as an alarm. It’s a sound made when a coyote is startled and unsure of exactly what is happening.

4. Bark. The bark is a long-distance threat or alert of low to medium intensity.

5. Bark-howl. This is when the coyote gets serious about a threat. The bark-howl is used as a long-distance high-intensity threat or alarm. It starts with a bark and blends into a howl.

What is interesting about the bark and the bark-howl is that research suggests that the varying intensity and frequency of barks could contain different information.

Howls stably convey information for distances of at least one kilometer. Barks, on the other hand, rapidly attenuated and did not appear suitable for transmitting information.

6. Whine. This sound is used to express submission and is usually given by a subordinate coyote to a more dominant coyote.

7. Yelp. The yelp takes the whine up a notch and represents high-intensity submission. However, it can also be a response to being startled. As is the case with several other of these vocalizations, this categorization shows that coyote communication is more of a gradient.

8. Woo-oo-wow. This is the greeting song of coyotes, and is used during high-intensity greeting displays. The vocalization modulates in frequency and amplitude as a coyote’s motivation shifts.

9. Lone Howl. The lone howl is just what you probably already know it to be: a howl by a single coyote, which is often started with a series of barks and can distinguish individuals.

10. Group Howl. A group howl is sent up when two or more coyotes come together after being apart, or it could be given as a response to the howls of distant coyotes as a way of giving out location information to any listeners.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

1 COMMENT

  1. I’ve lived among coyotes my entire life, but I’m reasonably sure some of the coyotes near me are hybrids. I saw a full blooded Mexican gray wolf hanging around a couple of years back, and also a large black wolf-looking dog that was local for a good 6 months. Lately I’ve been hearing the strangest sound. It’s like a howl but with a very unique tone. My closest description is that it sounds like a squall. I live in a desert foothills area with low density houses and lots of ravines and washes.The coyotes I’ve seen are very large-70lbs is my best guess. I compare them to my 85 pound Springer Spaniel/ GSD/ Australian Shepard mix dog for size. They’re also very healthy with luxurious coats. Are my coyotes hybrids, do you think?
    The Fish and Game people told me that there’s no wolves around here because they eat hooves animals, but javelina are abundant and mule deer have been seen. I saw a deer that had been hit by a car 1/2 mile from my house and the next day it had been dragged about 100 yards from where I’d seen it the evening before, so I know there’s predators around.
    What do you think?
    My husband and I are both native to the area and we both saw the wolf. It was unmistakable.

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