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A cacophony of howls could be heard this Halloween. The source? Coyotes.

An adult coyote stands in a brown field.
Peter Eades
U.S Fish and Wildlife Service
The territory of a coyote is often 2 to 3 square miles. They are territorial animals and may use howling to warn others about entering their territory.

Residents can expect to hear increased howling this time of year, as autumn marks when young coyotes set off on their own for the first time.

Wildlife biologist Falyn Owens of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission said the young coyotes are looking for unoccupied territory to call their own, far away from family.

"They were born early this previous spring, so they are going to be basically sub-adults at this time," Owens said. "So, if you can imagine the human equivalent of turning 21, they are old enough to go off on their own, but they're still pretty young and naive."

A gray and red coyote stars straight into the camera
Benjamin Farren
Coyotes live as mated pairs in North Carolina. The family unit might grow temporarily with the birth of pups, but those young coyotes will eventually leave to establish their own territories in the fall.

Young coyotes making their own way in the world means that howling is common this time of year. Owens said that young coyotes might first travel with littermates when they leave their parents’ territory, and they’ll use howling to check in with one another.

They will also use howling to let an established coyote pair in a territory know they’re just passing through.

"Adult coyotes that have a territory are not going to let other coyotes hang out in their territory," Owens said. "Coyotes that have an established pair will howl and communicate to let the other coyotes in the neighboring territory know, 'This is my territory. I'm over here. You can't come over here.' And then the other coyotes – the neighbors – will communicate back and say, 'OK, I hear your message.'"

Owens said that adult coyotes do tend to be more tolerant to young ones passing through this time of year. Ultimately, young coyotes may travel hundreds of miles to find fitting territory. Owens said that they want to move far enough away to avoid being related to any potential mates.

During their lengthy travels, young coyotes may pop up in unexpected places. Owens said that these young, happy-go-lucky coyotes haven't learned to avoid humans like older coyotes. They may then temporarily be seen more in suburbs and farm fields, before they eventually settle down by the winter.

"Coyotes are very good at surviving and thriving pretty much anywhere in North Carolina," Owens said. "There's probably not a square inch of North Carolina at this point that doesn't have an established coyote pair that has that area as a territory. That's regardless of whether you're in the suburbs, or out in a really rural area, or even in the city."

A coyote stands in a brown field with straw or hay in its mouth
Melissa McGaw
N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission
Coyotes primarily eat rodents and fruit, but small animals around the size of a rabbit are at risk of being viewed as prey.

Owens said that coyotes don't actually pose a threat to people, who are big enough to make adult coyotes wary of human interaction. But, Owens said that small pets and animals will look like dinner to a coyote, so outdoor cats, small dogs, or chickens should always be supervised or in a secure enclosure.

Owens will help lead a coyote management workshop in Wilmington on Nov. 16.

Sophie Mallinson is a daily news intern with WUNC for summer 2023. She is a recent graduate from UNC-Chapel Hill, where she studied journalism. Sophie is from Greenville, N.C., but she enjoys the new experiences of the Triangle area. During her time as a Tar Heel, Sophie was a reporter and producer for Carolina Connection, UNC-Chapel Hill’s radio program. She currently is heavily involved in science education at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.
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