Coyote Yipps

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Coyote Voicings: Howls, Yips, Barks, & More

Coyote Howls, Yips and other Vocalizations: A Panoply of Sounds & Situations

COMMUNICATION by coyotes is one of my passionate interests, just as is their family life and social interactions. What I write here is based entirely on my own twelve years — now 15 years! — of hearing and documenting coyotes in their natural settings and in context. 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!

I’m including a number of vocalization videos for you to hear. By carefully observing the contexts in which any vocalization occurs and knowing different coyote positions and relationships in the family, we can figure out why they were emitted and what meaning they have for other coyotes. Their sounds do not constitute “a definite language” per-se, but consist more of emotional output — emotings — which can be easily read by other coyotes and by those of us who spend time listening to them in situ as they go about their social activities. Coyotes have intense family lives, so it’s the interpersonal communication/vocalizations which predominate. Family internal affairs are much more all-consuming than anything else going on in the ‘outside world’ for them: family life is what they live for. And each coyote — and by extension each coyote family — has its own unique variation on the general themes.

Yipping, howling, and any other vocalizations may be heard at any time of day or night — this is because coyotes themselves are diurnal animals, meaning they can be active at any time during a 24-hour day. How far off do you think you can hear a howl? I investigated this question in the post by that name — just click on it to read it. By the way, I have not encountered coyotes howling for no reason at all, and I have not encountered coyotes howling before or after a kill — yips and howling appear not to be an indication of an eminent attack on prey nor a celebration thereof. Coyote “songs” can last for 20 minutes or longer.

1068w Coyote Yipps

Within their sing-songy yips and howls, they are able to produce a variety of tones, pitches, modulations, inflections — sometimes with warbles, lilts, crescendos and trills. They use their mouths, lips (at the sides) and tongues in addition to their vocal chords. The unique pattern combinations, lengths and use of these various articulations, can form signature howls for individual coyotes. In addition, their voices are probably as individually different as our own. They can be identified this way by other family members — just as we can identify voices over the telephone. Among the coyotes I know, I can distinguish who is howling in the distance because I’ve learned their individual howl patterns.

0707w Coyote YippsWe don’t have terms for all of the sounds they emit as far as I know, and since they run in a continuum, and mostly meld together, it might be hard to break them down into exact discrete descriptive terms. Eskimos have 50 or so terms for snow to differentiate very relevant differences that they need to know. Further south on the continent, our terms for snow are limited to what is relevant to us: powder, icy, slush, new, wet, dry. The same might be said of coyote noises: barks, growls, howls and yips are the terms most of us apply to coyotes. However, there is much more that is relevant for them, and the examples below dip into this a little. Context is important — it determines the meaning of any vocalizations.

Why do coyotes yip, bark, or howl? What are the types of things they communicate verbally (remember that most coyote communication is quiet and through body language)? Warnings, hellos, happiness, joy, anger, distress disapproval, dislike, pain, their whereabouts are some of the things they express out-loud. I’ve heard a dad start yipping, apparently calling to his family, and then two of his pups respond but not the others. The two that responded had been close-by. They ran towards him and then all of them started yipping together — there had been no siren, and the other two family members — his mate and another adult pup — were not involved.

The area I have not had experience with is voice communication between individuals from different families. I know these individuals challenge each other vocally and respond to the challenges, and they even physically fight. I’ve seen the result of such a fight but I did not hear the vocalizations. If and when I do hear this, I will elaborate on it here. If anyone else has heard it and would like to comment about it, please do!!

Summarizing generally:

  • Their sounds range from raspy sounds, which include growls, snarls, hisses, and barks (see recordings 1, 2, 3). These communicate that they are upset or angry, or are used as warnings. When a high-pitched sound is urgent or intense, it fits into this “not very happy” category. . .
  • to sing-songy friendly howls, yips, whines, and squeals (see recordings 4, 5 and 6). These higher pitched and smoother sounds tend to be friendly, happy or contented sounds.
  • Use of lips & tongues allow modulations.
  • Their ability to create a variety of sounds often cause a few coyotes sound like many.
  • Unique howl patterns identify each coyote. I can distinguish some in the distance.
  • AND I’ve never heard coyotes howl at a kill.
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Before delving into some samples and a few situations, I want to elaborate on THREE COMMUNICATIONS which folks are most likely to hear. These are generalizations, within which there is infinite variety:

1 Howling/yipping along with sirens. One or more coyotes might be involved. If there are multiple coyotes, the variety of sounds produced by each coyote and the dissonances between them often makes it sound as though there are many more coyotes than there really are. Why do they howl with sirens? The speculative, likely explanation is that they are singing with and responding as if to other coyotes: sirens may sound like other coyotes — a friend from New Delhi once confused our sirens for the Jackals in India. When they respond to other coyotes in the distance, it appears to be to express/confirm both their unity with these non-family neighbor coyotes residing within earshot, and their territorial separateness from them (peaceful coexistence?!)

2 Social communication. The social communication in recordings #8 and #9 may, at first, sound a bit harsh due only to the coyote’s proximity to the microphone — but you’ll see that it is a peaceful communication with a gentle intention in its back-and-forth flow. Since here they precede a get-together before the evening activities, the immediate message is probably about that: “Hey, I’m ready” or “I’m coming”, and conveys their proximity to each other. Beyond that, the simple act of communicating confirms their unity as a pair, their well-being, and no doubt more about their mundane situation. It also (speculating again) may serve as a territorial message proclaiming ownership of the turf to other coyotes further off but within earshot, as explained above.

I have heard a father call out (no siren was involved) to which two yearling youngsters not only responded to him vocally, but came running towards him. Was he calling them? If so, why didn’t the three others come? Might howling serve as a sort of “roll call” for the family? I question this because all coyotes don’t always join in. There are always more questions than answers! One of my contacts heard howling which lasted all morning — 4 hours at least: several of us determined that this could have been a youngster calling for its mother who probably had been killed by a car or a bullet. :((

0696w Coyote Yipps3 Distressed howling and barking due to intrusive dogs. This barking is intense. It happens as frequently as ‘howling with the sirens’ in the parks where I observe. Howling and yipping which results from having been chased by a dog is easy to recognize because it is very distressed and anguished sounding. An unusual example of this is a three-year old loner I’ve been documenting: She regularly screams at, and follows, the dog who used to chase her — she does this to no other dogs, no matter how often they’ve chased her. That dog no longer chases her because she is kept leashed. The coyote appears to be aware that the dog is restrained. This behavior has gone on for over four years. The coyote appears to be standing up for herself and possibly for her territorial claim, against this dog who harassed her, even though a human is there, and even though the dog is over 100 pounds.

I used to think that the barking and howling which occurred after a dog chase might be a warning to other coyotes in the family group, but I have seen instances where this was definitely not the case. For example, a dominant coyote — the mother — was relaxing on a hilltop when one of her full-grown pups started a barking session not too far off — it had been disturbed by a dog. I immediately started watching for a change in the mother’s behavior, waiting for some type of reaction. There was none. This mother ignored the barking, even though I had previously seen her run to a pup’s defense when she saw a dog — a particular dog which she deemed dangerous — approach too close to one of the pups. In another case, I was on a hillside photographing one of these full-grown pups when I heard the mother barking in distress in the distance — it is a signature bark which I have come to recognize. The young coyote totally ignored the barking and continued its hunt! Here, the yelps were not an alarm signal to others. This is what made me realize that vocalizations were emotive responses. I’ve observed that coyotes are feeling animals if nothing else: hear more about this from Carl Safina.

SOME EXAMPLES AND SITUATIONS (all from my fieldwork):

1) & 2) 3) A coyote’s distressed yelps due to the intrusion of a dog. This type of intense vocalization occurs when a coyote is anguished and upset. The first two videos show the exact same response by 2 different coyotes to the same situation, showing how different coyotes and their communication might be.

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3b) This was nighttime and I was absolutely not prepared for this encounter. In the dark, the pregnant female approached my leash dog who was right next to me and screamed, point blank, at my feet:

4) & 5) & 5a) & 5b) Here are a couple of responses to sirens. High pitched yips can sound as though they are puppy noises, but they are adult vocalizations. All sorts of sounds, including grunts, barks and gnarls are woven into both. In the second video (5), a coyote who is not in view responds from the distance by baying. 5c two recently united coyotes howl to sirens in a united front.

6) Soulful baying is a more unusual response to sirens and here melds into a back and forth communication with another coyote.

7) & 8) A family responds to sirens in the distance which morphs into shorter greeting yips in a rendezvous.

9) A 4-month old youngster responds to his family in the distance.

10) & 11) Long-distance social communication between a mated pair. The first takes place during a calm afternoon: more details about this video can be read above under “social communication.” The second video is more intense, at night, with the male barking in the foreground, and the female, sounding agitated further away.

12), 13) & 14) 14a) 14b) Hisses and growls are depicted in these three videos. In the first, soft anger hisses/growls are used to say “get away from me”. In the second video, hissing and “almost” growling at a youngster imparts that Mom does not want any nonsense — pup acquiesces. In the third video, the female of a mated pair is trying to impose her will on her mate (apparently trying to keep him from grooming a youngster) who responds by moving away from her. In the fourth video (14a) Dad is reminding 10-month-old youngster who the boss is — listed to 1:24 thru 1:48.

15) Growling and snarling accompany shoving and biting, while the youngster squeals of pain in this video depicting disciplinary and dispersal behavior .

16) This recording begins as a family response to a siren. Then at about 1:36, as greetings and rank confirmations begin to take place, a youngster growls at another and THAT coyote is then pursued by two others who threaten her for her disruptive growl. She squeals as a preventative measure as they approach, warding off a possible bite from them!

17) & 18) I’ve included two more videos to show how coyotes use mouth and lip movements in their vocalizations, and even tongue movements.

19) To howl or not to howl is an indecisive wavering I see repeatedly: there is grunting which sometimes precedes a barking episode, as if the coyote were trying to decide whether or not to go ahead with it.

20) Multi-tasking! After stealing the dead rat and playing with it, he walks off, intending to bury it where only he can find it. But sirens and howling from others begins and distracts him. So he multi-tasks: howling with the rat in his mouth. But not for long, the rat is more important. He goes to bury it, but again gets distracted: family activities win out, and the rat is abandoned.

21) & 22) Some howling can be pretty relaxed. In this first video a female is responding to her mate’s call while lying down: note her single high-pitched tone vs. her mate’s barking. In the second video, rank issues and annoyance are dealt with along with howling..

23) This coyote is following, and giving a tongue-lashing, to the dog who chased her long ago. She behaves this way towards this dog and no other. She is both angry at, and fearful of that dog as seen by her posture. She follows them (dog and owner) for maybe a football field’s length, sometimes complaining like in this video and sometimes not, then sits and watches them disappear over the horizon. Owner and leashed dog just keep walking on and away from her and, fortunately, are rather amused by the coyote’s behavior. This behavior has been going on for over half a year now.

24) Grunting with displeasure:

25) This lugubrious howl occurred after the male coyote went about an unusual frantic sniffing of his territory. He was following someone’s scent. Right after the recording he “kicked” the ground: he was angry. The day after the recording, I spotted an intruder female in his territory. So this howl is either a warning or an emission of internal discontent — the same as when coyotes howl after having been chased by a dog. https://yipps.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/9-1-monte-lugubrious-howl-kicking.mp3

26)a And here is an audio of social communication one evening: it’s two coyotes during their greeting session before heading off for the evening trekking: it sounds super-conversational, doesn’t it? This one was recorded by Alicia Pollak https://yipps.files.wordpress.com/2018/01/gcalicia-9-20930-to-11pm.m4a

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26)b HE passes through, looks back for HER, doesn’t wait and goes on his merry way. SHE then appears and sniffs. She knows he has been there. She waits and waits, and finally she calls out to him: “Are you coming? Where are you?”. HE responds, and so does the rest of the family. When she moves out of the automatic eye of the camera, the recording stops.

27) Here is a video of a mother and father coyote with some of their 8-month-old offspring. Mom is vocalizing her desire to be left alone, and she even nips at her mate. The youngsters understand because they distance themselves. Dad stands by her side and is there to “second the motion”.

28) Mellow, Gentle, and Sweet Vocalizations — Her new companion is only a few feet away in each case. If you know coyote vocalizations, you’ll know right off that these are comfortable and affectionate reachings out for her new friend. The second one is in response to sirens. Compare these to some of the agitated, distressed vocalizations caused by being chased by dogs that I’ve posted.

29) Family extended conversation session at 6am in mid-February in the dark of the morning. This occurred AFTER sirens had sounded and they had already responded to that. There had been vocalizations even earlier but I don’t know for how long before. What is happening here is that three new coyotes have moved in to the territory. The alpha female from the old family had been there calling for her mate the previous night. I don’t know if it was the old family, or the new coyotes who were vocalizing in this recording. It was pitch dark outside.

https://yipps.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/family-extended-conversation-lhs-200215.mp3

30) Upset yearling coyote calls out to the rest of the family, but they aren’t around — you can hear the urgency in the call when no one answers.

https://yipps.files.wordpress.com/2020/10/10-6-audio.mp3

31) This video’s vocalization is JUST barking. A female is upset at an intruder. The barking went on over two minutes before I began this video. At two minutes into the video, the barking stops and two siblings arrive to offer support. I did not see the intruder this day, but she appeared the following day until driven off.

32) Mellow, mild and sweet vocalizations to her new, nearby mate:

33) High pitched and at the sametime soft gurgling or warbling vocalizations of 8 month old pups. You’ll hear one pup alone at first — he/she is on one side of a large hill. As I drove around, I soon heard a group of tiny “conversational” sounds.

https://yipps.files.wordpress.com/2020/11/pups-softy-gurgling-howling-bh11-29pm.mp334) Warbling sounds by one coyote after sirens sound in the distance (courtesy Trish Tenhoeve):https://yipps.files.wordpress.com/2020/12/trishs-recording.mp3

35) Three 20-month-old siblings give this amazing concert after sirens sound at 9 pm (Courtesy D.Samas):

https://yipps.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/turquoise-way-8.m4a

36) Three 20-month-old siblings give another amazing concert, this time there were no sirens to set it off, it’s simply their evening rendezvous (Courtesy D.Samas)

https://yipps.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/david-01-08405pm-.m4a

37) I call this “Siren Chatterings”: a family of four responding to sirens at dusk, with ever so many nuances to their individual vocalizations.

https://yipps.files.wordpress.com/2021/01/2021-01-13-siren-chatter.m4a

38) Vocalizations during feeding the pups:

38a) Dad calls out to his pup to come for a rat he’s brought him. [ I previously had posted this as a *distressed* vocalization, but after reviewing all the peripheral evidence, I stand to be corrected: he’s calling his son. Read the caption and text below the video].

39) Discipline and/or ostracizing vocalizations, with the youngster whining at the treatment.

40) Fight between the alpha female and alpha male of a family:

41) Upset vs.content vocalizations between an adult mated pair of coyotes:

42) Rendezvous sounds from 3:00 to 4:20 on this video which include grunts, growls and high-pitched emittings:

43) Grunts of a 7-month-old pup that never erupt into a full howl: the video shows his body heaving with each grunt:

44) Parental disciplinary growl occurring at a greeting:

45) Mating sounds:

46) Heading out after an intruder (@1:45 on the video):

47) Mother calls out to family and they respond (excuse the wind noise). After a nap the family, consisting of Dad, 2 year old male and 1 year old daughter, respond to sirens, and Mom can be heard but is not in the video:

48) This one was sent to me — it’s REALLY cool! Ash Temeña was playing the piano out of doors when the coyotes joined her!

49) Three adults from a family respond to sirens. Listen right to the end where you might have to strain to hear the growls. A short bark actually ended the howling, but the short growls continued, barely audible, afterwards. The adults consist of four year old Dad, two year old son, and one year old daughter. Mom and the pups were not here:

https://yipps.files.wordpress.com/2023/10/audio-10-3-audio-gc.mp3

© All information and photos in my postings come from my own original and first-hand documentation work which I am happy to share, with permission and with properly displayed credit: ©janetkessler/coyoteyipps.com.

[NOTE: This posting will be updated periodically with new voicings]