The coyote (Canis latrans, meaning "barking dog") also prairie wolf) is a member of the Canidae (dog) family and a close relative of the Gray Wolf. It can be pronounced phonetically or without the e on the end. The phonetic pronunciation is more common in the eastern US. There are 19 recognized subspecies of coyotes (Voigt and Berg, 1999). Coyotes are native to North America and are found from Alaska to Panama. European explorers first encountered these canines during their travels in the American Southwest. They may occasionally assemble in small packs, but generally hunt alone. Coyotes live an average of 6 to 10 years. The word "coyote" was borrowed from Mexican Spanish, which itself borrowed the term from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word coyōtl (IPA [ˈkojoːtɬ]). The collective name for a group of coyotes is a band, a pack, or a rout.
The coyote looks very similar to the endangered red wolf in
profile. They have similar size, color and head shape.
Despite being extensively hunted, the coyote is one of the few medium-to-large-sized animals that has enlarged its range since human encroachment began (another is the raccoon). It originally ranged primarily in the western half of North America, but it has adapted readily to the changes caused by human occupation and, since the early 19th century, has been steadily extending its range. Sightings now commonly occur in California, Oregon, New England, and eastern Canada. Coyotes have moved into most of the areas of North America formerly occupied by wolves, and are often observed foraging in suburban trashcans.
The coyote stands less than 0.6 meters (2 ft) tall and varies in color from white-gray to tan with sometimes a reddish tint to its coat. A coyote's ears and nose appear long and pointed, especially in relation to the size of its head. It weighs between 9 and 22 kilograms (20–50 lb), averaging 14 kilograms (31 lb). The coyote can be identified by its thick, bushy tail, which it often holds low to the ground. It can be distinguished from its much larger relative, the Gray Wolf, by its overall slight appearance compared to the massive size and stockiness of the bigger canid, which typically weighs 34 to 57 kilograms (74 to 125 lb). The coyote is an extremely lean animal and may appear underfed even if healthy. During pursuit, a coyote may reach speeds up to 43 mph.
The northeast coyote and the Cape Cod coyote are thought to be a hybrid with the Red Wolf (Parker 1995). Coyotes can also hybridize and produce fertile offspring with Gray Wolves and domestic dogs. However, practical constraints such as the timing of estrus cycles and the need for both parents to care for the pups limit such crosses in the wild.
Coyotes were once essentially diurnal (day time), but have adapted to more nocturnal (night time) behavior with pressure from humans (McClennen et al, 2001).
They are adaptable and live in a variety of different niches. Their behavior can vary widely depending on where they live, but in general they live in packs yet hunt singly in search of small mammals including rabbits, mice, shrews, voles, squirrels, grouse, carrion, insects and sometimes sheep, and fish. In areas where coyotes and deer co-exist, an adult coyote will typically prey on one fawn per year (Voigt and Berg, 1999). The coyote is an omnivore and adapts its diet to the available food sources including fruits, grasses, and vegetables along with small mammals and even trash. In Yellowstone National Park, before the reintroduction of the wolf, coyotes began to fill the wolf's ecological niche, and hunted in packs to bring down large prey. Wolves have since much reduced the coyote population, through both competition and predation. Though wolf/coyote confrontations are usually dominated by wolves, coyotes have been known to attack wolves if they outnumber them. Coyote are preyed upon by wolves, bears, and cougars. Coyotes, in turn, compete with smaller canids, such as foxes and sometimes domestic dogs, and will attack these when they encounter them.
Coyotes breed in late January or early February, depending on altitude. Gestation lasts on average 63 days, and litters of four to six pups (average 5.5 pups; Moehlman 1997) are born in late April or early May. Both parents (and often undispersed young from the previous year) help to feed the pups. At three weeks old the pups leave the den under close watch of their parents. Once the pups are eight to twelve weeks old they are taught to hunt. Families stay together through the summer but the young disperse to find their own territories by fall. They usually relocate within ten miles.
Hearing a coyote is much more common than seeing one. The calls
a coyote makes are high-pitched and variously described as
howls, yips, yelps and barks. These calls may be a long rising
and falling note (a howl) or a series of short notes (yips).
These calls are most often heard at dusk or night, less often
during the day. Although these calls are made throughout the
year, they are most common during the spring mating season and
in the fall when the pups leave their families to establish new
In rural areas, coyotes will respond to human calls. This is most often after the coyotes have started a howling session. They will also respond to recorded howls. In some of these areas, the coyotes will stop and wait for the humans to stop before resuming their howling session, once they've figured out that it isn't another coyote that has been calling to them. In areas where the coyotes have grown accustomed to humans calling back to them, they tend to continue with simpler calls back to the humans and return to more complex calls when the humans get tired of calling to them. Playing a recorded wolf howl will make them stop for up to an hour before they start in again, probably because wolves prey upon coyotes.
Coyotes also thrive in suburban settings and even some urban (city) ones. A study by wildlife ecologists at Ohio State University yielded some surprising findings in this regard. Researchers studied coyote populations in Chicago over a six-year period (2000–2006), proposing that coyotes have adapted well to living in densely populated urban environments while avoiding contact with humans. They found, among other things, that urban coyotes tend to live longer than their rural counterparts, kill rodents and small pets, and live anywhere from parks to industrial areas. The researchers estimate that there are up to 2,000 coyotes living in "the greater Chicago area" and that this circumstance may well apply to many other urban landscapes in North America. In Washington DC's Rock Creek Park, coyotes den and raise their young, and scavenge road kill and rodents. "I don't see it as a bad thing for a park," the assigned National Park Service biologist told a reporter for Smithsonian Magazine (March 2006). "I see it as good for keeping animal populations in control, like the squirrels and the mice." As a testament to the coyote's habitat adaptability, a coyote (known as "Hal the Central Park Coyote") was even captured in Manhattan's Central Park in March 2006 after being chased by city wildlife officials for two days.
On April 3, 2007, a coyote in Chicago caused something of a stir when it walked in to a sandwich shop in the Loop (the downtown business district). The coyote wandered through the propped-open door of a sandwich shop in downtown Chicago and calmly settled in a cooler containing beverages. Animal control officers removed the coyote about an hour after it first entered the shop.
Coyote predation on pets (especially cats and small dogs) in suburban areas has become common in recent decades and attacks on children and adults, once rare, appear to be on the increase.
Coyotes are generally wary of humans and are easily frightened by loud noises.
Human feeding of coyotes, known as "subsidizing," can lead to habituation, in which a group of animals becomes comfortable in the presence of humans. Human feeding of wildlife other than birds is almost always discouraged by scientists and wildlife management personnel, because the changes in animal behavior can lead to a range of problems, including a weakening of natural hunting and foraging ability, diseases related to poor and unnatural diet, and, most significantly in the case of predatory carnivores, boldness around and intimidation of humans.
Coyotes still pose very little threat to an adult human and, at an average of just 35 lbs in weight, are far less intimidating than some domestic dogs. In fact, only one fatal attack on a human has ever been recorded. In 1981 in Glendale California, a coyote attacked a toddler, whom despite being rescued by her father, died in surgery. Coyotes were interbred with several hound breeds to produce the Blue Lacy, the state dog of Texas.
There once was a high demand for coyote pelts in North America, especially in Canada. In the 1970s the price of a good coyote pelt was up to $180.00. As of 2007, the average pelt in Saskatchewan is only worth $60.00.
This Coyote Page is Copyright The Animal Web Guide © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub