It can be heard at almost anytime, but especially after sunset. On calm evenings from the late summer throughout autumn, the high-pitched yelping cry of the eastern coyote occasionally echoes across the landscape under the cover of darkness.
While the Adirondack coyote is known to make its tormented-sounding bark during any season, at this time of year they tend to be more vocal.
As the litter of maturing pups is mastering the skills of hunting and developing the stamina to travel long distances, the coyote family is able to venture further in their nocturnal search for prey. By more regularly traveling around the territory of the adult pair, the members of the family become better acquainted with the location of food sources and with the spots where potential danger may lurk.
Since much of their time is spent moving through forested areas, or across brushy terrain, after sunset coyotes often lose visual contact with one another. Some naturalists believe coyotes “sing” to remain in contact with other members of their traveling party.
When a coyote is actively hunting, it remains quiet. Whether it is attempting to pounce on a mouse or vole in a brushy forest clearing, sneaking up on a beaver that is gnawing on a tree a short distance from the water’s edge, or tracking a nearby white-tail, the coyote must maintain a stealth-like profile for hunting success.
If one coyote family member stumbles onto a good hunting opportunity, it lets the pack continue on, while it pursues its target. Afterward, the separated family member follows the scent trail left by the moving pack as they may now be well beyond shouting distance.
During mid to late autumn, the coyote family may begin to break up, as the maturing pups develop the urge to establish a territory of their own and form a bond with a member of the opposite sex. The movement of wandering juveniles at this time of the year causes older coyotes to regularly advertise their ownership to a particular parcel of land. This is done primarily through the maintenance of scent posts; however, vocalizations are believed to serve, to some degree, in this process. A howl is likely to be given when a resident adult encounters an older scent trail of an unfamiliar coyote that has cross into its territory. A young wayward coyote that happens upon an unoccupied stretch of land may also “sing” in its attempt to establish contact with other unattached members of the opposite sex traveling nearby.
Behaviorists have a difficult time attempting to say for certain what motivates the coyote to “sing”, or just how much information this wily canine is able to communicate with its short bursts of barking yelps. While wolf behavior can give some insight, the coyote is a different beast and may be experiencing different urges.
Regardless of the reasons behind their song, this eerie, unsettling cry is a familiar part of an Adirondack autumn. A stop along any remote section of road in the Park after dusk during this time of year, and bellowing out a howling bark can occasionally elicit a response from one or several members of the coyote family that resides in the immediate area.
Because of the unusually large size of the eastern coyote in the Adirondacks, some understandably mistake it for a wolf. The physical appearance of older, well fed coyotes in our wilderness can easily cause confusion, even among wildlife experts, over its identity.
Yet, when sitting around a campfire or on a porch outside of town, it’s the short, frantic yelps of the coyote that can be heard – not the steady, low-pitched, moaning howl of the wolf. It’s coyote music, not the wolf’s more lengthy, haunting melody, that breaks the stillness of autumn evenings in the Adirondacks.
Photo courtesy Paul Curtis.
A version of this post was first published on the Adirondack Almanack in 2011.
There is nothing like sitting around an Adirondack campfire at night hearing the howling of a not too distant coyote.
We spent the nights of September 16 and 17 this year camped on the shores of Middle Saranac Lake. (Do you remember the warm and calm weather that week?) During the night we were entertained by the expected cries of the loons, as well as a chorus of coyotes mixed in. Were they competing? Communicating with each other? It was truly an unforgettable wildlife experience.
An enviable experience. Thanks for sharing that!
This sure has been the fall to be out there. Hearing one of these sounds (loon, coyote) transforms the whole experience into something special.
I love to listen to them in the wilds and also at home where they sing along with the local fire siren
I was bicycling south on route 9 heading toward the Underground Railroad Museum at AuSable Chasm. I heard what sounding like a lot of coyotes and sounded close. I flew up that big hill just before the Chasm! Well, now I know, if they were howling, they weren’t just about to hunt me down!
I was way back in Moose River camping a few years ago. I was up above Moose River on a rise alongside that course in a spot about an eighth-mile in from Otter Brook Road. The very last morning I was there….my tent and gear packed and ready to go,the camp cleared and cleaned….I was sitting on the bench at early light taking in the tranquility,the absolute quiet,a sweeping mystical aura so heavy in the air teasing me as it always does when i’m in them there woods. I’m sitting there absorbing,lost in thought,when at once a coyote started howling in full tone just on the other side of that flow across from camp. It was the most wonderful music to my ears those moments at that early hour.This coyote was so loud and clear and it affected me in the most positive ways.I truly believe those moments will always stay with me as meaningful moments in my life, brief though they were and insignificant as they may seem.
I am not a big believer in coincidence’s I am of the mind that all things happen for a reason.When my brother died at a young age eighteen years ago my immediate thoughts were that there was something to learn from his death,a thing or two for me to get out of it.Since then I have come to accept death as one of the many transitions I must come to grips with in my life. And so it goes with this lone animal at that early hour a few September’s ago way back in the Moose River Woods. There was a reason it sang to me those moments.At the very least I believe that coyote was a messenger talking to me,reminding me,arousing in me,the awareness of how so special the Adirondack wilderness really is.It was the most perfect send-off and I will never forget it!
Thankyou, darn you.