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.