Coyote Howling: Why Do Coyotes Make Sounds at Night?

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Published: January 6, 2022
Image Credit JayPierstorff/Shutterstock.com
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Do Coyotes Hunt in Packs
Coyotes are the most vocal of all wild canines

iStock.com/GatorDawg

From Alaska to Central America, coyotes, also known as prairie wolves can be found in almost every corner of the continent. They prefer frigid locations as well as mountainous terrain and grasslands. Coyotes are often depicted as nocturnal creatures who howl at the moon in literature, art, and film. People often report hearing coyotes howling off in the distance at night. So, is there a logical explanation for why coyotes make sounds at night?

There are many reasons why coyotes make a lot of noise, particularly at night. But, are there any lunar influences at play? Keep reading to find out!

Coyote Howling At Night

Wild Dog Breeds: Coyote
Coyotes make lots of noises at night. They are influenced by the light of the moon and use it to their advantage when communicating.

JayPierstorff/Shutterstock.com

In the wild, coyotes use howling to communicate with one another when other prairie wolves are nearby. Believe it or not, coyotes don’t typically howl at the moon. Rather, it is the moonlight that causes coyotes to communicate verbally by howling. Below are examples of how the moonlight influences the coyote.

Advertising Territory

The moonlight allows coyotes to see their home region at night, enabling defending coyote packs to howl to inform intruders of their presence. Non-member coyotes are not allowed into their range. The home pack will protect its area with howls, whines, and barks to warn intruders that they are not welcome.

Foraging

When hunting, coyotes act as a team, sometimes dividing to corner or seclude prey. The kill is a team effort, and the feast is shared. During hunting, howling is used to communicate position. Coyotes will hunt in the dim light of the moon because it is easier to surprise their prey in the dark than in the light of day.

Distracting Predators

Coyotes also use the moon to spot and confuse predators at night. Predators may be drawn to a coyote pack’s burrow or den if coyote cubs are present. To defend their pups, coyote packs will swiftly split up, rushing away from the den and howling, confusing the predator. In this way, the predator will hunt the howling rather than the young coyotes. The coyote group will cease howling and return to guard the baby coyotes while the predator is preoccupied. If the predator reappears, the cycle repeats itself. 

What Sounds do Coyotes Make?

Coyote standing under trees
Coyotes make a variety of sounds including yipping. growling, howling, laughing, and even screaming.

Sam Carrera/Shutterstock.com

Coyotes are known for howling at the moon, but did you know coyotes make other sounds at night? Coyotes employ a variety of ways to communicate both day and night.  These night-stalkers are so adaptive that many wildlife enthusiasts call them the ‘song dog’!

Sound Types and What They Mean

A coyote’s vocalizations might convey a great deal about its intent. Coyotes have a wide range of vocalizations, and they quickly learn to mimic the sounds they hear.

The following are the typical sounds a coyote makes:

  • Yipping
  • Growling
  • Laughing
  • Screaming
  • Whining
  • Barking

Yipping

Coyotes use yipping as a method of vocal communication to convey more painful feelings. To dog owners, the sound is like a high-intensity whine, which can be alarming! When a coyote gets scared, its normal vocal response is to make this noise. It’s possible that the coyote is distressed, and yipping is a symptom of it.

Growling

If a coyote feels threatened, they will growl to alert other animals that they are prepared to defend their area. It is the coyote’s technique of warning other animals that it will attack them if they get too close.

Laughing

Coyote yips and whistles can sound like laughter. Various screams, whines, and yips combine to create a boisterous symphony. This is commonly referred to as a “nightly celebration” by others.

Screaming

Screaming is one of the oddest coyote noises. This sound is a distress signal that sounds much like a woman screaming. Some find it frightening when they hear it in the middle of the night and can’t recognize it.

If you hear a coyote make this sound, stay away from it unless you are a trained wildlife expert. Screaming coyotes often make this noise in response to a larger predator. Coyotes aren’t the only animal that screams at night, as foxes will also employ this vocalization.

Whining

People often confuse coyotes for domestic dogs because of their resemblance to the sounds made by domestic dogs, specifically whining. This is often a sign of submission for the coyote, or possible pain or injury.

Barking

It’s also common for coyotes to bark at people, dogs, and other large animals that infringe on their territory.

Conclusion 

Do Coyotes Hunt in Packs
Coyotes are often called the “song dog” due to their wide range of noises.

FRAYN/Shutterstock.com

Coyotes are often given a bad reputation because of their opportunistic feeding nature; however, their windpipes are among the most amazing in the entire canine world. Coyotes are North America’s most vocal animals since they are the honorary song dog! Using howls, whimpers, and much more, these dogs can find their way around and communicate.  It’s certainly beautiful to listen to them sing on a chilly winter night.

To better understand these nocturnal animals, it is important for people to be aware of the different sounds they make. If you hear them howling, it doesn’t guarantee they’re dangerous, but always keep your guard up and be ready to act if you’re ever confronted by one.

coyote howling from on top of a rock
Climate change has caused some coyotes to interbreed.
JayPierstorff/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.

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