Coyotes: Howling at the Moon

I remember sounds from my childhood home in the Texas Panhandle, noises that made me fearful and cold when I was small, with echoes that I rarely hear anywhere else, the calls of coyotes at night.

Coyote Calls
Coyote Calls

Seldom did we ever hear the howling of a wolf pack, but coyotes made their dens by the railroad track, which ran less than half a mile below our house.  A large plum thicket filled the gully that came up from Lelia Lake and coyotes bred there.  Our farmhouse was just up the hill.

If you have never heard the sound of a coyote, something that might strike fear even in an adult heart, test your metal by listening to the various calls, barks and growls here.  Now imagine hearing that from large casement windows in your bedroom when you were seven, eleven or even twenty-two.

During the daylight hours, we might see a lone coyote jumping in the grass beyond our orchard, but nobody, not even the best marksmen in our family, ever got a shot at one.  They took our chickens one by one, or they killed our barn cats and terrorized our guard dogs because they worked together to trick them and to instill fear.

Once my father determined to get two he saw jumping and cavorting in the sun at the far end of our pasture, but instead he accidentally shot the horse that ran in the path of the bullet.  The injury was not that serious, since it was only in its leg, but because of a resistant infection, the horse eventually had to be put down.

Wolves, like coyotes run in packs.  There may be similarities in habits, but the size is vastly different.  Because Texans are pragmatic people, rewards were given for coyote kills.  If one were to bring in a pair of front feet, he received a monetary “gift” from the city or county officials.  Farmers who had cattle that ranged out in the open were particularly happy to display coyote tails on a fence post where passers-by could see and rejoice.  More than once, my daddy found his young calves dead, after a coyote attack.

One farmer in our area found a coyote den lined with the skins of young cattle and sheep.  Some of the carcasses had not been eaten, just killed and dragged to the den to become part of a posh flooring.  Songs were written, stories told and pictures passed around our prairie neighborhood.  Hal Bynum was born and grew up in Lelia Lake, the tiny town sitting on the edge of HWY 287 just before our plumb thicket, and I have no doubt inspiration for many of his songs and spoken word poetry were taken from his experiences growing up there.

Some ask why the wolves and coyotes howl at the moon.  One researcher believes they do not.

Mythology and the imagination of the masses have created a popular belief that there is some sort of connection between wolves and the moon—that when the wild canines howl, it’s directly and deliberately at the Earth’s natural satellite. It’s a romantic concept, for sure—one we certainly enjoy telling the kids—but hardly the case in reality. The presence of the moon when a wolf howls, as it turns out, is purely coincidental and circumstantial.

“Canine experts have found no connection between the phases of the moon and wolf howling,” writes Animal Planet. “Wolves pipe up more often during the night because they’re nocturnal. But why do they point their faces toward the moon and stars when they howl? It’s all about acoustics, since projecting their calls upward allows the sound to carry farther.”

While communication is the main motivator, wolves howl for a variety of reasons within that scope. PBS recorded the various pitches and situational howls, from the “lonesome wolf” cry to the “confrontational” call. The purposes include relaying location (between rival packs as well as within their own), warning each other of impending danger, and, in the case of the infamous “chorus” howls, fibbing to rivals about the size of their pack. A small group of wolves howling together can sound like a large group, keeping rival packs in the dark about their true size—just like a bluff in the game of poker.[1]

[1] http://mentalfloss.com/article/51517/are-wolves-really-howling-moon

5 thoughts on “Coyotes: Howling at the Moon

  1. I’m a city girl, unfortunately, despite how much I’ve always wished to be a true country girl. But memories of summers at Grandma’s, and a year’s worth of country life, out in the middle of nowhere near Hedley, linger pleasantly for me, maybe my only true taste of real country living, minus the large farm animals. Beautiful sunrises, quiet mornings, wind, always the wind, and yes, the coyotes. They were so elusive, if you saw one you wondered if you really had seen it, or just imagined it. Phantoms. Chicken killers. Thieves. Now in rural South Carolina we’re starting to see them too, and hear the large pack at night, bone chillingly near and uncannily human. But these are bolder than the Texas phantoms, almost impudent, one walking carelessly around in broad daylight, unafraid of my 12 year old ignorantly trying to shoo him away with a mere broom. I wonder what God’s purpose for them is, here, now, trespassing in our near-city suburbs. I think often we are so shielded from nature, we think we can forget our Creator, or at least drown out thoughts of Him with neon lights, music, and our frenetic schedules. The cold, bold stare of a grown coyote makes me. Stop. And think. There is a God. I’m only human.

    In some backwards way, I actually like having coyotes around our suburbs – as long as I can keep my chicken coop in good repair! (I wouldn’t feel that way if I had any cattle). (-:

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    1. Yes, the new “city” coyotes remind me of how little control we have these days. Indeed it is a mysterious development I am unable to comprehend–almost the same as the bears that roam so closely to suburban homes. In former (maybe better) days human and domestic animal life was valued above wildlife, but not these days. Someone has decided that we have no right to protect ourselves and our property.

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  2. One sound track by Hal Bynam, which everyone ought to hear is taken from http://www.halbynum.com, the official website that allows you to hear his music and his spoken poetry. Click on music, then choose the lower icon and you should see “The American Dream.” From there choose “Train Whistles in the Night.” He did not leave out anything, and to think his grew up just down the hill from our plum thicket where the coyotes lived in great numbers makes his recording more meaningful than I can express.

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  3. Very interesting–the soundtrack link was helpful in recreating the chilling effect. We have coyotes in NC now (not on the same scale, though); bears are becoming a big problem in suburban areas, though.

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    1. Sandy, if you are like me, you will be seeing more and more editing that needs doing for each lesson you have worked on. I do not plan to take another course just yet because I need to go back and re-think some of the issues that were beyond me while we were whizzing through each lesson. I have profited greatly from the interaction and from each assignment, but I need to repeat and repeat before I can consider myself having learned it all. Today, for example, our internet was off most of the afternoon. This morning our power was out until at least noon. Maybe the Lord is telling me I need to be doing something else right now; however, I could not iron, or wash clothes. We are so dependent on electric power.

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