That Long, Lonesome Howl

elizname2smallThe coyote (Canis latrans) is known by many names.  Depending on time and place, he’s been called prairie wolf, little wolf, cased wolf, barking dog, yodel dog, and perhaps my favorite name for him—God’s dog.

coyote1smEven his common name has plenty of variations.  You can say it, “kai-OAT,” “KAI-oat,” “kai-OAT-ee,” or the Spanish version, “coy-OH-tay,” which, these days, also applies to folks who smuggle illegal aliens across the border.

The coyote also wears many faces. To sheepmen, ranchers, and some suburban homeowners, he’s a predator and a pest.  To kids, and kids at heart, he’s the roadrunner’s nemesis.  To wildlife biologists, he’s a survivor.  To Native Americans he’s a legend.  To western authors like me, he’s the world’s greatest sound effect.

There’s not much to a coyote.  A coyote weighing 50 pounds is a rarity, the norm being between 20 and 25 pounds. A mature male may reach 2 feet high at the shoulder, and 3 feet long excluding his tail.  Eastern coyotes tend to be smaller than their western kinfolk.  The color, which can vary, is usually a yellowish gray with longer, darker guard hairs extending to the bushy, white-tipped tail. 

Coyotes are devoted mates and good parents, rearing their young, usually about six, in a burrow or den in the ground.  While the pups are little, the father brings food to his family.  Once they’re big enough to fend for themselves, the male pups leave.  The females stay until they find mates of their own.  Potential life span is about ten years, maybe half that in the wild.

coyote7smCoyotes are highly intelligent animals with keen senses.  But the real key to their survival is adaptability.  Coyotes were once grassland dwellers, following the buffalo herds and dining on the birds and rodents the huge creatures flushed out of the grass.  They also ate carrion and preyed on weaker animals.  With the settlement of the West, coyotes broadened their territory and their diets.  These days some coyotes even live in cities, rustling garbage and preying on rats, squirrels, pigeons and a few unlucky pets.  Surprisingly, coyotes eat more vegetation than most predators, especially liking fruit.  While many wild creatures are declining, the coyote population in this country is actually on the increase.  You may not like them much.  But you have to give them points for survival skills.

In Native American lore, no animal is more powerful than Coyote.  Hero, trickster, villain, seducer, clown, bringer of fire – tales of Coyote are legion. They are told with reverence, and only at appropriate times.  Coyote himself might be listening, and the storyteller must take care not to offend him.

The Horseman's BrideAs a writer, when I want to create a feeling of loneliness and isolation, I often put a howling coyote in the background.  In reality, coyotes don’t howl because they’re lonely or sad.  It’s just their way of social networking.  A howling coyote is saying, Hey, I’m here.  Where are you?  or maybe, This is my territory.  Ladies welcome, but you gents stay away!

Love them or hate them, coyotes are here to stay.  They remain one of the true icons of the American West.

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29 thoughts on “That Long, Lonesome Howl”

  1. I never heard the term God’s dog. I’ll try to remember that the next time the coyotes in the hills behind us keep me awake at night.

    Boy, that’s some book cover! Wow!

    Great post. Great…eh…hero!

  2. I heard coyotes as a kids, too, Pam. Love the sound in the mountains at night, just haunting, which is why I like putting coyote calls in some story scenes. Thanks for visiting.

  3. Not sure where I first heard the term God’s dog, Margaret, but I’ve read it a number of times, so I know it’s used.
    I envy you hearing coyotes at night. They would sing me to sleep (unless I had animals to worry about).

  4. I have heard coyotes howl when I was a kid and lived in the country! I kind of think its a beautiful sound because they are off in a distance! It has been years since I have heard this sound!

  5. Social Networking, Elizabeth?

    Like Facebook and Twitter? LOL

    I use coyote in my books as a disparaging term.

    “He’s pure coyote. He’ll shoot you in the back instead of facing you.”

    I think Louis L’Amour did this. He’d say things like, “I thought I was takin’ on a coyote and instead I was facing a curly wolf from the high-up hills.”

    We have coyotes around our ranch and they really howl. It sounds like it’s right outside your window but it carries a long, long way in the night air. A beautiful sound. And sometimes we can tell there are pups. My husband is better at noticing thing like this than I am. He’ll say, “Those are pups yipping, it sounds like a whole litter.”

    Me? I’m usually busy having imaginary conversations on my computer. He has to draw my attention to stuff like this.

  6. And we always say KAI-oat. My daughter went to South Dakota University in Vermillion for a semester and their sports teams were the Coyotes. So they were proud of the term.

  7. I used to see a bunch of them around my area, but since things have built up, less and less are seen… but still at times at night I can still hear them calling!

  8. I would love to hear coyotes again, Quilt Lady. Showing my age here, does anybody else remember an old recording by the Sons of the Pioneers called “Blue Shadows on the Trail”? It had coyote songs in the background. Beautiful.

  9. Love the Louis L’Amour quote, Mary! Coyotes are unpopular with a lot of people. I guessed you might have them on your ranch.
    As for social networking, humans certainly didn’t invent that – just the technological varieties.

  10. Interesting that you still hear the coyotes, Colleen. I’ve never seen or heard them in my suburban neighborhood, but since there are mountains and a brushy gully nearby I’m guessing they’re around. One reason my precious kitties live indoors!

  11. I love the sound of a coyote howl. When we lived in the city, it wasn’t unusual to see a coyote trotting down the middle of the neighborhood street or alley. They look so much like dogs–only their longer legs give them away.

  12. Tracy you are a gem!!! This is just delightful.

    Scrolling down the page I did find the original Sons of the Pioneers song. It’s listed under Roy Rogers, from an old Disney movie. Wonderful with the film graphics.
    One tiny disappointment, the coyotes aren’t real. Unless they found some with perfect pitch.
    Here’s the link, or you can click the one above and scroll down the other choices at the right.

  13. That coyote howl adds just the right touch, doesn’t it Phyliss? Looking forward to learning more about your books.

    And Sedona would be the perfect place to hear coyotes, Tanya. One of the most gorgeous spots on the planet! Lucky you!

  14. I’m in the suburbs of Pgh. so not any around here so I guess it’s easy for me to say that we should let them be. I think it’s horrible how humans have decimated so many animals – bison/buffalo for one. I wish I was a vegetarian (couple in my family) but it’s so much easier not to be.

  15. when we first moved out to the country i awoke one night to the most eerie sound…it was nothing like howling, i can’t even describe it…like babies crying in a way…a flurry of high pitched yips that made me feel like something awful was about to happen. i shook my husband awake to save us from whatever it was and he sleepily said, “it’s just the coyotes”
    we have a lot in our area and i value them as beautiful, smart, family centered animals…
    they are cunning
    they spent last summer trying to kill our dogs…they would regularly circle our yard and send a runner coyote in to lure our dogs to the tree line where the rest of the pack awaited
    my husband would watch them
    our dogs killed three last year and 2 so far this year (we have several animals/chickens and small children to protect)
    we have 3 large powerful dogs and i watched them take one coyote in our yard at dusk
    it took over 30 minutes for our dogs (and our horse–stomping his head) to kill the coyote–it was horrific…but we couldn’t get a good shot in with all four intertwined
    while the dogs went for a drink one of the dogs stood next to the downed coyote trying to catch his breath…the coyote, who i thought had finally died, jumped up and started attacking the dog standing there…then back they were fighting
    my husband finally got a shot in to put the poor thing out of it’s misery
    very tough animals
    i, who am a terrible “farmer/rancher” mourned it’s death and marveled at it’s beauty, strengh, and courage–even though his family was systematically trying to kill our dogs
    we have had other times where some dogs have come back from a couple days of being missing in the woods barely able to walk
    surely from the coyotes
    they have taken several of the neighboring small dogs in our area as well
    it’s a dog/coyote war out here

  16. Tabitha, When our dog went missing for a few days….we blamed a distant neighbor’s lady dog.


    They swore she had been….seen to. But nope. Puppies.
    Our dog hadn’t because….there were no other dogs for miles and miles.

    We underestimated our dog’s….um….let’s call it his….biological imperative.

  17. You want to hear something SERIOUSLY WEIRD we had a red fox living near our house for a while. (maybe still, she had pups one year and we knew where her quite large burrow was).

    That critter made a strange sound. You’d think a fox would bark. They’re dog like. But we heard this noise for … maybe a whole summer. And my daughter and I would stand at the window and try to figure out what that was.

    It almost sounded like a bird. High pitched, not a bark but possibly a strange sort of howl…sort of????

    We also had a emu running lose in the neighborhood, but we didn’t think it was that close to us. So, you can see how we might be misled. 🙂 Emu? Bird? Fox? Fox wasn’t even on our list of possibilities until my husband found the burrow.
    Did I mention they make a WEIRD sound? I’m not kidding.

  18. Wonderful post, and I loved the title of your post! We have Coyotes here in town, I saw one just strutting down the street the other night, unconcerned.

  19. I know what you mean, Jeanne. Every time I read an article or see a tv feature on how badly meat animals are treated, I never want to eat meat again. But now and then I still do.

    Tabitha, what a story! It gave me goose bumps. That was one tough coyote. I feel bad when coyotes and other wild animals attack pets, but it’s nature. They’re just following their instincts.

    Mary, what a neighborhood you must have! An emu running loose? Yikes! I’ve seen foxes at the SLC airport. They actually live in the open spaces between the runways. Probably a few coyotes, too.

    And what an experience to see a c oyote in town, Karen. Coyotes are a little bit of the wild west.

  20. lol mary
    you always make me laugh
    all of our dogs are fixed…so no servicing neighbor dogs here 🙂

    the emu…yes, we have one…but i say it’s a teradactyl
    crazy bird like screaming sound…freaked me out for a long time…i was up in the woods looking for it…thought something was dying maybe?
    my husband told me it was a fox when he was finally around when i heard it
    bizarre the noises these animals make…you’d think we lived in africa and not the midwest 🙂

  21. Just a quick note to say that I enjoyed catching
    up with the past couple of guests, we were up
    in The Woodlands playing with the grandchildren
    for the weekend!

    Just wanted to mention a photograph I saw in the
    last month or two. It was a coyote walking along,
    not a dirt road or desert pathway, but on a paved

    Pat Cochran

  22. I am a native Californian but I have resided here in Indiana for over nine years. Reading your post brought back so many memories. I use to love to hear the coyote howl. I heard it a lot in California, when we would go camping. It was a beautiful lonely sound.

    May you all have a blessed day!

    Cindy W.

  23. Tabitha, you actually have an emu? What interesting lives you farm/ranch ladies lead!

    Outings with grandchildren are the best, Pat. Thanks for coming back to visit. It’s amazing how coyotes have adapted to our so-called civilization, isn’t it?

    Thanks for the memory, Cindy. Once you’ve heard coyotes howl you never forget the sound. It’s nice that you remember.

  24. They have moved into East Tennessee full force. You can hear them at night, but I don’t think I have ever heard them howl here. What we hear the most are the yips and barks when they are chasing through the fields at night. We see them pretty frequently, usually singles, sometimes in pairs. At night, however, they seem to be running in packs.
    Our grandson has a pair of emus. Haven’t heard them make any noise. They live down the road from us. I know they can hear our peacocks, as can anyone else within way too large an area. I’ll have to ask him if they have made any sounds yet.

  25. You rural ladies have exciting times, Patricia. Coyotes, emus, peacocks? Yowza! As a city gal, I envy you. Always wanted to have peacocks – such an exotic sound, like being in India when you hear them. But they wouldn’t stay in my yard and my neighbors would probably shoot them (or me).
    Thanks for posting.

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