Occasionally, a mated pair of coyotes will live, hunt, and raise pups together for many years, sometimes for life. Breeding occurs in late winter. After a gestation (pregnancy) of 63 days, an average of four pups are born from early April to late May. (Litter size can be affected by population density and food availability.) The young are principally cared for by the female; occasionally a nonbreeding sibling will assist with raising the litter. The male provides some assistance. Pups emerge from the den in two to three weeks and begin to eat regurgitated food. Because food requirements increase dramatically during pup rearing, this is a period when conflicts between humans and coyotes are common.
In pioneer days, coyotes (Canis latrans) were restricted primarily to the sagebrush lands, brushy mountains, and open prairies of the American West. Wolves occupied the forests. Coyotes have since taken advantage of human activities (including the reduction of gray wolf populations) to expand their range throughout North and Central America. In many parts of the United States, these intelligent and adaptable animals now manage to occupy almost every conceivable habitat type, from open ranch country to densely forested areas to downtown waterfront. Despite ever-increasing human encroachment and past efforts to eliminate coyotes, the species maintains its numbers and is increasing in some areas. The coyote’s tenacity tries some people’s patience and inspires others’ admiration.
At first glance, the coyote resembles a small German shepherd dog, yet its color can vary from animal to animal. Shades include black, brown, gray, yellow, rust, and tan. Coyotes also have shorter, bushier tails that are carried low, almost dragging the ground, and longer, narrower muzzles than their dog cousins.
3.5-4.5 feet (1.1-1.3m) long and up to 24 inches (0.6m) tall at shoulder
20-35 pounds (9-15 kg)
up to 4 years in wild or 18 years in captivity
The female coyote digs her own den under an uprooted tree, log, or thicket; may use a cave, hollow log, or storm drain; or take over and enlarge another mammal’s burrow. The den will have an entrance 1 to 2 feet across, be dug 5 to 15 feet long, and terminate in an enlarged nesting chamber. Coyotes usually have several dens and move from one to the other, minimizing the risk that a den containing young will be detected. These moves also help to prevent an accumulation of fleas and other parasites, as well as urine, droppings, and food refuse.
Coyotes are opportunists, both as hunters and as scavengers. They eat any small animal they can capture, including mice, rats, gophers, mountain beavers, rabbits, and squirrels, also snakes, lizards, frogs, fish, birds, and carrion (animal carcasses). Grass, fruits, and berries are eaten during summer and fall. Coyotes occasionally kill domestic dogs (and foxes) that they consider territorial intruders. Coyotes are also very protective of their young and will attack dogs that get too close to their den and pups. Grasshoppers and other insects are important to juvenile coyotes learning the stalk-and pounce method of hunting.
SIGNS OF PRESENCE:
It is more likely you will hear a coyote before you see one. Coyotes are extremely wary. Their sense of smell is remarkable, and their senses of sight and hearing are exceptionally well developed. Sightings of coyotes are most likely during the hours just after sunset and before sunrise. To view a coyote, locate a well-used trail and wait patiently from an area overlooking a canyon, ravine, or other area. A coyote will often come down the trail the same time every morning or evening. Also, you could watch a coyote’s feeding area, such as a livestock or big game carcass. The most obvious sign of coyote presence is their howls or calls. Other signs are scat and recent kills with undigestable fur and bone left behind.
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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Dept.
National Park Service
International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources
Paul Tarwell, “Camping & Wilderness Survival Second Edition” (Lebanon, New Hampshire: Paul Tarwell, 2006).
Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife
World Worldlife Federation