Information Content of Coyote Barks and Howls

B. R. Mitchell, M. M. Makagon, M. M. Jaeger & R. H. Barrett (2006). Information Content of Coyote Barks and Howls. Bioacoustics, Volume 15 (3): 289 -314

The information content of coyote (Canis latrans) vocalizations is poorly understood, but has important implications for understanding coyote behaviour. Coyotes probably use information present in barks or howls to recognize individuals, but the presence of individually-specific information has not been demonstrated. We found that coyote barks and howls contained individually specific characteristics: discriminant analysis correctly classified barks of five coyotes 69% of the time and howls of six coyotes 83% of the time. We also investigated the stability of vocalization characteristics at multiple distances from the source. Recordings were played back and re-recorded at 10 m, 500 m, and 1,000 m. Vocalization features were measured at each distance and analyzed to determine whether characteristics were stable. Most howl characteristics did not change with distance, and regardless of the distance discriminant analysis was 81% accurate at assigning howls among six individuals. Bark characteristics, however, were less stable and it is unlikely that barks could be used for individual recognition over long distances. The disparate results for the two vocalization types suggest that howls and barks serve separate functions. Howls appear optimized to convey information (i.e. data), while barks seem more suitable for attracting attention and acoustic ranging.


bark, Canis latrans, Canidae, communication, coyote, distance effect, howl,
individual differences, ranging