Last Updated on October 12, 2023 by Tommy
This article was fact-checked in September 2023 by coyote expert Jonathan Way who runs the website Eastern Coyote Research
Coyotes are prevalent throughout the entire North American continent, with the only exception being the Arctic. They are sometimes referred to as prairie wolves based on where many people associate them being from, but have also been dubbed “song dogs” by members of the wildlife community because of their constant noise-making.
The most common vocalization coyotes make is howling. However, they also bark, yip, growl, and scream!
What do these sounds mean, and who are coyotes talking to when they make them? What is the best reaction if a coyote starts growling at you?
Read on to learn the answers to these questions and so much more!
What Sounds Do Coyotes Make?
Table of Contents
- 1 What Sounds Do Coyotes Make?
- 2 Understanding Coyote Howling
- 3 More Coyote Sounds
- 4 What Should You Do If A Coyote Howls Or Growls At You?
- 5 Frequently Asked Questions
- 6 Authors
Unlike humans, coyotes cannot talk with words. However, they have their means of communicating with each other using various sounds.
Understanding Coyote Howling
Howling is the most common form of communication for an adult coyote, frequently heard by wildlife observers and homeowners. A coyote’s howl is loud enough to be heard from miles away, especially when they do it in packs!
Why Do Coyotes Howl?
Coyotes howl for three main reasons.
1. To declare their territory
Coyotes are territorial animals. When they travel and settle in a new location, they howl to assert dominance over any existing coyotes in the area.
Coyotes live in territorial packs which are almost always family units. They guard territories in order to protect these areas from intruders.
They may also howl at coyotes encroaching on their established territory to warn them to stay away.
2. To reunite with their family
Coyotes don’t precisely live in packs with “stranger” coyotes. Usually, they live in family groups within a territory.
Sometimes, if they lose sight of a family member within their range, they howl to locate them or call them back home.
This particular howl usually sounds like a loud, penetrating drone, like a siren.
Often a lone howl may be a separated pack member trying to find a packmate or his/her pack.Jonathan Way
3. To find mates.
Coyotes howl to advertise themselves as available and ready to mingle during the breeding season.
FACT: It's a common misconception that coyotes howl while hunting. These wolfish dogs never howl after a successful kill or while hunting. This would only advertise their presence to prey and tempt other animals in the area to come and try to steal scraps from them!
How Far Away Can You Hear A Coyote Howl?
According to our coyote expert, Jon Way, a person can hear a single coyote howling from about a mile away, but it depends on elevation, location, and the weather. Other coyotes can hear a howl up to three miles away!
Their howls are also surprisingly loud. Many homeowners have thought that they had coyotes in their backyard due to the loudness of the howls, but the animals turned out to be much farther away.
This may partly be because coyotes like to howl in groups. When they combine their voices, they sound more intimidating to all who hear them.
Two coyotes howling together are said to sound like seven or eight animals!
There is also a strange phenomenon wherein the howls of multiple coyotes sound like they are coming from all directions, giving the illusion that you are surrounded.
Don’t worry. You’re probably not! It only sounds that way because the sound gets distorted through the environment.
Two coyotes (or a family group/pack for that matter) can sound like many coyotes, not just because of the environment, but also because they can change octaves and notes while howling which makes it sound like there is more than there actually is but I would say you would need 3-4 actual animals there to sound like 7 or 8.Jonathan Way
When Do Coyotes Howl?
Coyotes do not randomly howl. They follow a schedule dependent on their daily and annual schedules!
Time of Day
Coyotes are most active during dawn and dusk hours. Interestingly, coyotes that live more in the wilderness tend to be more diurnal (active during the day), while those that live in urban areas are more nocturnal (active at night).
Scientists suspect that this switch is due to animals’ efforts to avoid people and their activity.
Because of this, people typically hear coyote howls at night. However, it’s not uncommon to also hear howls during the day.
If you walk your dog around dusk, it’s best to keep them on a leash and bring a noisemaker, such as a rattle, to ward off any potential coyotes!
The bottom line statement is that coyotes can be active at any point of day. A coyote active during the day is not necessarily sick. However, the one real trend is that they become much more nocturnal when living near people which is a sure-fired trait to avoid people.Jonathan Way
You can hear coyotes howling all year long but you may hear them more often during two specific times of the year.
Between September and November, the pups born during spring begin traveling around their parent’s territory and are often heard in new rendezvous sites where the family comes and goes to greet each other. In late fall, some individuals also leave their natal range to begin the process of finding real estate to establish their own home range and find a mate to establish a family of their own.Jonathan Way
Howls become prevalent as many of them search for new territories and packs.
Meanwhile, coyotes are noisier than usual in winter, usually between February and March. This is the courtship period for coyotes, and many are searching for mates. This is also when families more often travel together and defend their territories from other clans.
Can Coyote Pups Howl?
Young coyote pups are typically too small to make large sounds yet. For the first few months of their life, they only make little yipping sounds to interact with their family.
During June or July when they are 2-3 months old, coyote pups start howling loud enough to be heard by people. Group howls are often heard when the pups howl and the adults join in (or vice versa).
Why Do Coyotes Howl At The Moon?
There are stereotypical images of a wolf or coyote howling at a full moon. Do they actually do that?
Not precisely. Coyotes don’t howl at the moon. However, a full moon casts a bright light over their territory, allowing them to see everything clearly.
Even humans are often more active during a full moon. We might hear coyotes more because during a full moon, they are out more because of the moonlight. I don’t know of any scientific literature that says they howl any more often during a full moon though.Jonathan Way
This makes them more alert and vocally reactive to intruders entering their range.
The light also encourages coyotes to go for a hunt (and, therefore, howl-fest) because of the improved visibility. Unfortunately, their predators also benefit from the light, sometimes causing coyotes to scatter to protect themselves and their young.
As a result, the coyotes will howl later on to try to reunite with each other.
More Coyote Sounds
Coyotes make a lot more sounds than howling. Here are several other sounds that they make and why.
Yipping is a high-pitched whining sound. It is typically done by coyote pups whose vocal cords aren’t developed enough for full-blown howls.
They may yip when distressed or simply to say hello to their family.
Young coyotes between pup and adult stages may emit a yip-howl or something that sounds like a mix of both!
Adult coyotes may yip when conversing with their young or when startled.
Yipping has a territorial function as well. As a family yips and communicates, they make their presence known to other coyotes and warn them that this territory is taken.
The group yip howl is a type of social group (pack) howling. It likely has a social and territorial function.Jonathan Way
Coyotes growl for the same reason nearly all other animals do: to warn off approaching animals and let the intruders know it is not afraid to fight.
Growling typically sounds like a low grumble and is accompanied by a tense stance, as if the coyote is ready to pounce.
The bark-howl is the coyote’s main warning call if humans are too close to them or usually their pups. They often do a bark-howl to try and get the intruder to leave whether it is a wolf, bear, or person.
Bark-howls also function as warning calls to get the pups to hide so they can get to safety from whatever the danger is (most often a person).
If growling does not work, coyotes may begin to bark at intruders. A coyote’s bark sounds very similar to a dog’s bark.
Barking is essentially a coyote’s stronger warning to invading animals, people included, to back off.
Barking may also be used as a means of identification among coyotes. Researchers have conducted studies showing that each coyote has unique barks and howls.
FACT: Coyotes can develop accents (also known as dialects) based on their geographic location or even within their family group. Can you imagine a coyote with a Southern accent?!
A growling and barking coyote:
Truthfully, coyotes don’t laugh—they just sound like they are.
The laughing sound of coyotes is typically a distorted result of a pack’s various sounds mixing, including their yips, growls, howls, and whines.
The “laughing” in the below video is likely a group yip howl where it sounds like some are screaming like a human. That is likely pups of the year that are prepubescent so don’t have the vocal cords to howl deeper yet.Jonathan Way
We sometimes get inquiries about coyotes screaming. People say that they sometimes hear an almost human-like scream that sounds eerily like a scared woman.
However, according to our coyote expert, Jonathan Way, coyotes don’t typically scream, which means that any screaming noises you might hear in the night are likely the sounds of another animal.
Whining or Whimpering
Lastly, coyotes sometimes whimper or whine to express submission or accept defeat. A subordinate coyote typically does this to a more dominant one.
What Should You Do If A Coyote Howls Or Growls At You?
Let’s begin with what you should not do: Never turn your back on a coyote, and never run away! Doing so will give it the impression that you have submitted to it and possibly trigger it to chase after you.
If a coyote is howling or growling at you, remember that it is scared of you and is trying to intimidate you.
You can begin by holding its gaze and firmly holding your position until it backs away.
If that doesn’t work, resort to coyote hazing. Hazing is appearing larger and louder than you are to scare the coyote away.
Tactics for hazing a coyote include
- Waving your arms around while yelling
- Using a noise maker or rattle to startle it
- Throwing projectiles in their direction but never directly at the coyote or
- Spraying it with a hose or water gun.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I Worry About Coyotes In My Backyard?
Not usually. Coyotes tend to avoid people and will more likely run from you than attack you without being provoked.
However, bring your small pets and other backyard animals (such as poultry, if you have them) indoors as soon as possible. Your dogs may show aggression toward your coyote and spark a fight, or the coyote may try to steal them as a meal.
If you are still worried, though, there are many ways to repel coyotes as pests.
What Animal Sounds Can Be Mistaken for Coyotes?
Coyotes can easily be mistaken for other animals like foxes, dogs, wolves, and even owls! These animals make similar noises and can be found moving throughout the night.
Even the duck-like bird, the loon, is known to make some impressive wolf-like deep howls that can be quite striking. However, according to Jonathan Way, these howl-like sounds resemble wolf-howls a bit more than coyote howls.
Why Do Coyotes Howl at Sirens?
Coyotes howl at sirens because the high-pitched sound is similar to their own howl, making them think it is an intruder coyote trying to enter their territory.
Interested in hearing more coyote sounds and seeing if you can distinguish each one? Here is a video with 30+ sounds!