Scientific name: Canis latrans, which means “barking dog” in Latin.
Appearance and size: Coyotes are light brown on the torso with greyish-tinted fur on the ears and legs. Pups are mostly light brown with yellowish fur on the lower legs. Ears are large and pointed. Coyotes usually grow up to 30-34 inches, not including the 14-16 inch tail.
Habitat: These scavengers and hunters are found almost any habitat with proper food and shelter. They may live in forests, plains, or deserts. As humans move into the areas where they live, coyotes are forced to find new places to live and hunt.
Range: Throughout the western US from southern Mexico to Alaska, and recently expanding their range east. Now found almost everywhere in North America except the Arctic.
Diet and hunting: Coyotes are opportunistic predators whose diets vary in which regions they live. Common food sources include voles, squirrels, birds, snakes, rabbits and mice. Large individuals also sometimes eat deer. Both adults and pups forage for berries and fruits when available.
Life cycle: Coyotes breed from January to March. Females usually breed with one male every year (monogamous) and give birth to 6-10 pups. These large litter sizes compensate for the high juvenile mortality rate, as many of the pups born each year do not survive to adulthood. They are born blind with their ears closed, too. After about 10 days, their eyes open and their ears become erect. After around 12 months, the pups reach their adult size. On average, coyotes live up to 10-14 years in the wild. They may live for 20 years in captivity.
Voice: Coyotes make a howling sound or smaller barks to communicate with the packs or establish new breeding territories. Males sometimes also make a one-note barking sound as an aggressive call or to communicate with packs. Smaller purring sounds are also sometimes made in packs.
Tracks: Coyote tracks are usually 2.5 inches long. The hind prints are smaller than the front, and the inner two toes are smaller than the outer two. The thin claw marks are often visible on the front of the toe prints.
Coyotes at Edgewood
- Where at Edgewood am I likely to see or hear coyotes? Coyotes in this area are best seen in the open grassland areas of the west side of the park. They are easiest to observe in the early morning and around sunset. In an area the size of Edgewood, there is usually no more than one mating pair unless they’re related.
- What signs of coyotes can I see? The signs coyotes leave behind are much more common than coyotes themselves. On the trails in wet weather, we often see 4-toed tracks with claw marks. During the rest of the year, coyotes’ scat changes seasonally depending on their diet. It contains more berries in the summer and fall, and you will often find more animal bones during winter and spring. Coyotes may travel using park trails because the trails are easier to navigate and make good territorial boundaries.
- Can I hear coyotes at Edgewood? Our Emerald Hills neighbors sometimes hear coyote calls at sunset and at night, especially when coyotes are breeding.
- What times of day and year can I see and hear them? Coyotes are active mostly around the early morning and at night. You may see them at any time of the year. However, you are most likely to see them in the daytime in winter.
- Are there other good places nearby to observe coyotes? Another preserve where you might see coyotes is Russian Ridge Preserve. The coyotes there are less wary of people and may continue their hunting activity when nearby.
- How does their life cycle fit in with our seasons? Coyotes start breeding in the rainy season– late winter around early February. The pups develop by early summer and start foraging for berries around this time. Their diet becomes more carnivorous in early winter when the fruits recede.
- What do they do in winter? Coyotes do not hibernate. In the winter season they travel around searching for the proper food and become more diurnal (active in daytime) at warmer times of the day.
- What do coyotes eat at Edgewood? Edgewood’s diverse plant communities support a variety of food for coyotes: voles, pocket gophers, mice, rabbits, dusky-footed woodrats, squirrels, snakes, lizards, insects, birds, and rarely a fawn. In summer and fall, coyotes eat Coffeeberry, Madrone berries, Blackberries, Holly-leaved Cherry and other fruits. Coyote scat on Edgewood’s trails sometimes even includes carapaces and grasshopper parts! Habitat restoration to remove non-natives increases the diversity of plants in the grasslands, improving food sources for the small animals that coyotes eat to survive and feed their pups.
- Where can I learn more about coyotes?
- See page 3 of Edgewood Explorer, July 1994.
- The American Society of Mammalogists species account for coyotes
- Coyote Cute and The Day After by Ken Hickman on Nature of a Man
Information compiled by Matthew James 2013 and Kathy Korbholz 1994