Among the animal kingdom's marvellously varied soundtrack – honks, roars, squeaks, grunts, snarls, coughs, clicks, mews, squawks, and more – a wolf’s howl ranks high in terms of its visceral impact on the human ear.

You can enjoy the sound of some grade-A howling courtesy of a recently documented wolf pack in California, from video captured on trail camera and shared by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW):

The singers in question belong to the newly named Yowlumni Pack, first detected last year in the Sequoia National Forest. The pack was collaboratively named in December by the CDFW and the Tule River Tribe of California, whose reservation lies near where these wolves roam, after the Yowlumni Band of the Tule River Yokuts people.

Tule River Tribal Elder Vernon Vera explained the pack’s name in a CDFW press release: “This was described by my mother, Agnes Vera, who was born on the Tule River Indian Reservation in 1926. She was the last fluent speaker of Yowlumni until her passing in 2010. She taught that the Yowlumni were speakers of the ‘Wolf Tongue.’”

Most canids are pretty darn vocal, and across their whole global motley crew there are some striking utterances: from the birdlike twitters (and “sneeze-votes”) of African painted dogs, the whistles of dholes, and the keening howls of New Guinea singing dogs to the sharp barks and hair-raising yawps and screams of red foxes. Arguably, though, none is so commanding as that full-throated, chest-deep howl of a grey wolf.

A wolf howling at the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) in South Salem, NY.

Biologists still have much to learn about the various functions of the howl, but without question it’s a fundamental part of wolf-hood: Pups start howling within a few weeks of being born, and keep howling the rest of their lives. As with the calls of other highly social, group-hunting canids such as painted dogs and dholes, wolf howls likely help coordinate pack activity, deepen social bonds, establish territory, and link potential mates.

Wolves make other vocalisations, but those howls – which may be issued alone or as a group (“chorus howls”) – are unrivalled for long-range communication: They may carry anywhere from around nine to 16 kilometres (five to 10 miles), drawing widely scattered pack members together or alerting rival packs to staked-out turf.

Grey wolves historically roamed extensive swaths of California, but were extirpated sometime in the mid-1920s. The species has begun naturally recolonising the state from source populations in nearby states, not least Oregon, which was the home of the the first documented wolf to foray into California since extirpation – the famous OR-7, aka “Journey”. In 2011, OR-7 dispersed better than 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) from his natal pack in northeastern Oregon to the Southern Cascade Range and Klamath Mountains, eventually crossing into California. He trotted across seven counties there before ultimately returning to southwestern Oregon, where he helped establish the Rogue Pack. (The Rogues are still around, but biologists believe OR-7 – after leading quite the momentous life – likely died in the winter of 2019-2020.)

OR-7 was the first confirmed wolf in western Oregon since 1947. Image: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

In the spring of 2015, a few years after OR-7’s walkabout, the CDFW confirmed the first known wolf pack in California this century: the short-lived Shasta Pack.

The CDFW estimates some 45 wolves currently call California home, among them seven established packs. The Yowlumni Pack – which the agency believes presently includes a breeding pair and six pups – was one of several newly documented in 2023, along with the Beyem Seyo and Harvey packs.

Most of the confirmed wolf activity and pack territories thus far have been recorded in northeastern California, which makes the discovery of the Yowlumni wolves – howling away far to the south in the southern Sierra Nevada, much closer to Los Angeles than to the Oregon border – all the more notable.

Top header image: Stefan Rusche/Flickr