mother coyote teaching two pups to howl

Why Are the Coyotes Howling?

With foliage dropping as nature prepares herself for her winter nap, it's not uncommon to see -- and hear -- coyotes more often. At night, you can listen for group yip-howls of coyotes: short howls that often rise and fall in pitch, punctuated with staccato yips, yaps, and barks.

But there's no need for alarm if you hear or see a coyote. Understanding the howls of the "song dogs" and the animal's natural cycle, as well as knowing how to prevent conflict, will help you better appreciate the wildlife all around us.

The Cycle & The Sound

Approximately from September through November, the pups that were born in the spring are now ready to disperse and find new territory and packs. The yip-howling that can be heard now is the communication between the animals that is basically saying, "Hey Fam, what's up? I'm gonna set up camp over here and you can stay where you are. OK? Cool." It's a type of bonding within the family group while also serving as a territorial display - like an auditory fence around its space.

If you listen closely, you might hear the yip-howling coming from different directions; however, don't feel as though you are surrounded by hundreds of coyotes. It's an auditory illusion known as the "beau geste" effect, and is due to the variety of sounds produced by a male and female coyote and the way sound gets distorted as it passes through the environment. Basically, two coyotes can sound like seven or eight animals. The group howling can start with the parents while the pups from this season and previous seasons may join in if they are nearby or respond with howls of their own. Once one group of coyotes starts howling, chances are that any other mating pairs nearby will respond with chorus after chorus of group yip-howls - all saying "Hey! How are you?" and "Stay over there."

If the howling is interspersed with barking, it's usually indicative of a disturbance or agitation, such as a perceived threat due to an intrusion on marked territory. More detail on the songs of the coyote is provided in this Urban Coyote Initiative article.

Avoiding Conflict - Coyote Hazing

If you see a coyote it is important to remain calm and know that you are scary to them and they rather not be around you. Make yourself big and make some noise.  This quirky video describes what coyote hazing is -- it's not anything like "Animal House" -- and how to properly execute it (if you can get your dog or cat off your couch, you can haze a coyote). It's important to remember when hazing to continue it for a little while longer after the coyote goes away. If the coyote is acting aggressively, make yourself look big and slowly back away.

More information on the eastern coyote is available from MassWildlife.

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