Once found only in western mountains and plains, the coyote has proven to be a very adaptable animal. Under environmental pressures, it has moved steadily east and now lives throughout North America.
Known as the “little wolf” by Native Americans, the coyote is a member of the genus Canis, which includes red and gray wolves, dogs, and jackals.
Most of these species are so closely related that cross-breeding can produce fertile offspring, and coyotes have occasionally mated with domestic dogs, wild dogs, and wolves.
The coyote has the general appearance of a medium-sized collie or small German shepherd. It’s typically 1 1/2 to 2 feet tall, between 41 and 53 inches long, and anywhere from 20 to 50 pounds in weight.
The usual color is gray, but some coyotes are brownish or rust-colored. Those that live at higher elevations have darker, longer, and thicker fur.
The coyote’s tail is round and bushy, tipped with black, and it’s usually carried straight out in back.
Food and Diet
One reason coyotes have adapted well to many different environments is that they are not fussy eaters.
Their preferred food is mice and other rodents, but they will also eat fruits, grasses, and vegetables, road kill and other dead animals, reptiles, fish, and insects.
The coyote will hunt by day or night, though it’s more often a nocturnal hunter when it shares its territory with humans.
In addition to a varied diet, the coyote has varied methods of hunting. It may use its excellent sense of smell to track prey and then stalk it for a long period of time before striking. Because of its excellent stamina, though, a coyote will chase some kinds of prey over long distances, making its kill after the quarry has been worn out.
Although they’re generally solitary hunters, coyotes usually live in small packs. Within a pack, only one couple, the alpha male and alpha female, breed and have pups. They usually mate for life.
The breeding period is from January to March and a litter is born in April or May. A litter may range from 1 to 12 pups, with 6 or 7 most common.
Newborn pups are blind and helpless. Both parents hunt to feed the youngsters, who can leave the den for periods of time when they’re three weeks old.
At two to three months of age, the pups begin to learn how to hunt. They’ll usually stay with the family for more than a year, helping to raise the next litter.
They leave the family in the fall to form their own packs and start their own territories, usually within 10 miles of the parents.
Coyotes live in dens, usually tunneled in the side of a hill or under a tree. Sometimes, they’ll use a natural hole or take over an empty den left by a badger.
Of course, the coyote is known for its howl. But the howl is commonly heard only at two times of the year: During the mating season, when the male is calling for his mate, and in early fall, when the female calls her offspring and they howl a reply in unison.