A dog may be a man’s – and woman’s – best friend, but we haven’t been a friend to most other canine species, especially the coyote (Canis latrans – which means “barking dog”). As one of the most persecuted animals in North America, coyotes have been subject to gunshots, traps, snares, poisons, and just about every other method for killing an animal you can imagine.
But in spite of efforts to exterminate the species, there are more coyotes living in North America today than ever before. These tricksters have outwitted us at every turn, expanding their range and returning to places where they had been extinguished. Coyotes have even learned to live in close proximity to human beings, within urban and suburban areas, and they are thriving.
Although coyotes are classified as carnivores, they are true omnivores, making use of an amazing variety of foods. In rural habitats, their diet consists mainly of rabbits and rodents supplemented with berries and other plant material. In urban habitats, coyotes will help themselves to pet food, as well as the pets themselves, garden produce, and food waste.
Given coyotes’ intelligence and adaptability, it’s little wonder that conflicts arise with their human neighbors. Luckily for both parties, a little patience and understanding go a long way toward preventing these problems.
People have traditionally addressed conflicts with coyotes by killing the offending animal or – because trapping methods are indiscriminate – any coyote who they could catch. But humane, lasting, and environmentally sound solutions will be achieved only by changing the habits we have that invite conflicts with the animals.
Coyotes can run as fast as 25 – 30 mph and can jump as far as 14 feet. They use 10 different sounds to communicate, not counting their familiar yapping howl. In shape and size, they are like medium-sized collie dogs, but their tails are round and bushy and are carried straight out below the level of their backs. Adults weigh between 15 – 45 pounds, are 40-60? long (including the tail), and their shoulder height is 15-20?.
Coyote pups live and play in the den until they are 6-10 weeks old, after which the mother starts taking them out hunting in a group. The family gradually disbands, and by fall the pups are usually hunting alone. Within a year, they go their own ways, staking out their own territories, marked with the scent of their urine.
Howling: Communicates with others in the area. Howling is also an announcement that “I am here and this is my area. Other males are encouraged to stay away, but females are welcome to follow the sound of my voice. Please answer and let me know where you are so we don’t have any unwanted conflicts.”
Yelping: A celebration or criticism within a small group often heard during play among pups or young animals.
Barking: Thought to be a threat display when a coyote is protecting a den or a kit.
Huffing: Usually used for calling pups without making a great deal of noise.
A lone coyote howling at the moon has become an icon of the American West, but in reality, coyotes are not solitary by nature. They often mate for life and young coyotes will stay with their parents for a year or two if food is plentiful.
Mating occurs in early spring and the female begins to look for a secluded den site. The pups are born two months later and will be nursed for as long as seven weeks. The parents begin to regurgitate solid food for the young when they are about three weeks old. By nine months the pups are fully grown. They reach sexual maturity at one year but may wait until they are two years old to mate.
Coyotes can form packs consisting of a breeding pair and older offspring. Although the family will hunt and guard food cooperatively, coyote packs are less stable than those forged by wolves.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are coyotes in my neighborhood and I’m afraid they will attack my children or pets. What should I do?
Coyotes are generally afraid of people, and rarely attack humans. The best thing you can do for cats and small dogs is to keep them indoors – both for their own safety and for the safety of neighboring wildlife. Coyotes are opportunistic eaters and are attracted to places where they can find “easy pickings” of fruit, trash, or small animals such as mice and rats, etc. You can make sure you don’t attract coyotes to your house to taking several additional precautions:
Don’t keep pet food outdoors
Pick the fruit from your trees as soon as it ripens and keep rotten fruit off the ground
Keep trash can lids securely fastened and keep trash cans in your garage until collection day.
I saw a coyote during the day – doesn’t that mean it is rabid?
It is actually not unusual to see a coyote out during the day. Coyotes will venture out during daylight hours in search of food. They are opportunistic feeders, meaning they will hunt for food when the opportunity presents itself – regardless of whether it is day or night. Additionally, they eat squirrels, and squirrels are only active during the day.
Sometimes people are frightened because a coyote exhibits a “brazenness” that is alarming. This does not necessarily mean that the animal is sick. Coyotes may habituate to humans because of food sources being constantly available (i.e. cat food left on porches) or repeated contact with no negative consequences. You can teach a bold coyote to be wary of you and other people by using negative conditioning. Make loud, scary noises by banging metal pot lids together when the animal is nearby, or praying to the animal’s hindquarters with a hose.
Call 911 Wildlife if an adult coyote seen in the daytime is acting at all sick or showing abnormal behaviors such as partial paralysis, circling, staggering as if drunk or disoriented, self-mutilating, or exhibiting either unprovoked aggression or unnatural tameness. Keep people and companion animals away from the coyote.
Will coyotes attack my children or companion animals?
Neither the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) nor local and state health departments have classified coyotes as a human safety risk. Coyote attacks on people are extremely rare; ironically, that is why they are highly publicized the few times they do happen. On the other hand, according to the CDC, over 330,000 people visit the emergency room each year for treatment of dog bite-related injuries, yet we do not usually banish these dogs from our homes. It is essential to put risk in its proper context, which is why, statistically speaking, the risk of coyote harm to humans is practically nil.
Most, if not all, of the few coyote bites that occur nationally each year, are directly related to coyotes being fed by humans, whether intentionally or not. As a result, it is important to take proactive measures and ensure that there are no human-produced food sources, such as garbage or cat or dog food, on your property that will entice coyotes with a quick and easy meal.
Although coyotes will occasionally prey on free-roaming cats and small dogs, the fear of coyotes attacking companion animals is greatly exaggerated. Many more dogs and cats meet the unfortunate fate of being struck by an automobile. Coyotes seek out the type of prey that will give them the greatest reward with minimal risk of injury to themselves. As a result, their favored prey includes small mammals such as rabbits, mice, rats, and squirrels, as well as human-produced food, such as garbage and cat or dog food. Coyotes also eat insects, fruits, and berries.
Do coyotes hunt in packs?
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