Known in Native American lore as the "trickster," the coyote (Canis Latrans) has survived and thrived by being highly adaptable. Coyotes were once restricted to sagebrush lands, brushy mountains and open prairies of the American West but by taking advantage of the extirpation of wolves and other human activities they were able to expand their range throughout North and Central America.
They are so good at adapting to environments modified by humans that they can now be seen in large cities and despite ever increasing human encroachment and efforts to eliminate coyotes they maintain high numbers and are increasing in some areas.
Did you know? Wildlife biologists have observed that when coyote numbers decline, they react by having larger litters. This reproductive strategy helps safeguard them against extermination.
Coyotes are one of the eight species in the genus Canis, which includes wolves and domestic dogs. They can be distinguished from these species by their short bushy tails that they carry low to the ground, long ears, a thin frame and a long narrow muzzle. Adult coyotes weigh between 20 and 35 pounds and stand about 25 inches at the shoulder. The color and texture of their coat can vary from a light sandy blond to dark grayish brown.
Did you know? Coyotes can reach speeds of 40 mph.
Coyotes make their homes in diverse habitats from deserts to forests, also living close to people in rural areas, suburbs and even cities
Female coyotes dig their own dens under uprooted trees or logs but may also use caves or storm drains. They usually have more than one den in their home range and will move from one to the other to minimize predation risk on their pups and accumulation of parasites in the dens.
Development and Family Structure
Coyotes breed in late winter, with mated pairs producing an average of six young, who are fully weaned within six weeks. Pups are cared for by the female but occasionally a nonbreeding sibling will assist with raising the litter. The following fall and winter, most of the young leave their parents' territory to establish their own.
Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores, eating whatever is available. They are hunters and scavengers that eat anything from mice, rabbits and squirrels to frogs, lizards, fish, fruit and carrion. Grasshoppers and other insects are important to juvenile coyotes learning the stalk and pounce method of hunting.
Coyotes typically eat wild species but have been known to predate on livestock, poultry, garbage and pets (mostly cats).
Did you know? Coyotes have a very developed sense of smell they use to find food and avoid predators. They can even smell prey scurrying around under the snow.
Coyotes, although wary, are generally active throughout the day, with activity peaking at dawn and dusk. They may also be active at night, especially in cities where they feel safer after dark.
Unlike wolves, who form highly structured packs, coyotes associate with each other in loose groups. These groups vary with habitat conditions and food supplies. Coyotes also are less territorial than wolves.
Coyotes communicate with each other through a broad range of vocalizations. Their yips and howls carry for long distances, often creating the impression that they are closer and more numerous than they actually are.
Did you know? In order to avoid detection by predators, coyotes sometimes walk on their toes to make as little noise as possible.
Living with Coyotes
While coyotes have adapted well to living near people, they are generally shy animals, and would prefer to avoid confrontations with people. That's why even though there may be a coyote or two in your neighborhood, you may never see one in person.
To coyote-proof your environment, take the following measures:
Secure poultry and livestock
If you keep livestock or small animals, confine them in secure pens, especially from dusk to dawn when coyotes are most active. During the birthing season, keep young and vulnerable animals safely confined at all times. Discontinue use of remote pastures or holding areas. Guard dogs, especially those bred to defend livestock, can help protect against coyotes.
Solid wood fences must be six feet high to keep coyotes out. If coyotes seek cover on unfenced land, remove brush piles, low-growing vegetation, and other possible shelter sites.
When used correctly, electric fences can also deter predation. Consult your local zoning office and review your neighborhood covenants to determine if electric fences are permitted in your area, and, if so, what kinds.
Clean up your trash
Coyotes are attracted to food scraps in garbage. Dispose of trash in a metal can, making sure the lid fits tightly. Secure it further with a bungee cord or chain.
Secure pets and feed them indoors
Coyotes infrequently prey on domestic animals such as cats and small dogs. However, they may be attracted to areas where there are free-roaming pets. To prevent potential conflicts, keep companion animals indoors, especially from dusk to dawn.
It is also best not to feed cats and dogs outdoors, but if you have no choice, pick up food and water bowls, as well as leftovers and spilled food as soon as your pets have finished eating. Do not leave bowls or food scraps outside at night.
Burke Museum. November 12, 2015. Mammals of Washington: Coyote.
Feldhamer G.A., Thompson B.C. & Chapman J.A. (Eds). (2003). Wild Mammals of North America, Biology, Management, and Conservation (2nd ed.). Baltimore MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. November 12, 2015. Living with Wildlife: Coyotes.