Coyote Biology

Ask anyone thirty years ago, living east of the Mississippi, and they would most likely tell you that they have not heard the howl of a coyote in the wild. Today, the coyote has spread to nearly all the contiguous United States minus Florida, but its possible that there are a few there now. The coyote has been a central figure in most Native American cultures a central headache for livestock farmers

The coyote is a slender animal capable of attaining speeds of 30 m.p.h. Coyotes have often been confused with German shepherds due to size and general colorization. Healthy coyotes have a bushy, black-tipped tail. Color varies according to area but the typical coyotes are gray, reddish-brown and pales gray with some coyotes being blonde of black. Coyotes stand at 1.5-2 ft tall with 20 pounds average for the western coyote and 30 lb. for the eastern, which by some biologists have considered a true subspecies of coyote, and some of these eastern coyotes weighing upwards of 70 pounds!

Coyotes prefer the wide open spaces of the Great Plains and the deserts and arroyos of the American Southwest. The coyotes that have moved eastward have taken to the forested hills and croplands. The western coyote are more active in the daytime than their eastern cousins who are almost strictly nocturnal due to constant pressure to eradicate them and their more nocturnal prey.

During the spring and summer the coyotes are very social and their nightly serenades are heard almost every night during the summer. Most of the times these howls are used to locate other coyotes, establish territories, and to challenge the dominant coyote for his territory. As the summer wanes and fall comes in, the coyotes become more and more territorial and less tolerant of their offspring as the fall dispersal begins. At this time the yearling coyotes that have not left on their own are forced and chased out of their parents home range.

In the winter the coyotes that do not have a mate yet begin to pair up and/or form packs, as is the case for the parts of the U.S. and Canada that have very heavy snow cover and makes hunting hard, and these packs usually disperse once their prey become available once again. Between January and March, the paired coyotes, which are paired for life, begin to make. After and average gestation period of 63 days, a litter of 1-12 pups are born in April or May. Both parents will provide and take care of the young. The pups leave the den at 8-12 weeks of age and weaned shortly thereafter if not already.

Feeding Habits

Coyotes will eat whatever is available to them. For the most part, coyotes eat jack rabbits, cottontails, voles, shrews, mice and any other small to medium sized animal that doesn't have enough time to run or is already crippled. During the spring and summer they will eat a large amount of fruit matter from whatever they can find near or on the ground. So like the raccoon they will eat anything that fits in the mouths or can rip apart to do so.

The coyotes primary weapon for finding their food is their nose. They have a sense of smell better than any bloodhound or drug/bomb dogs that the police can find. After winding their prey they will stalk in closer and use their equally powerful ears to more precisely locate its prey. When the coyote gets as close as it dares without startling its quarry, when its a a size of a mouse bigger or smaller, it then,usually, makes a vertical leap and then nose dives on top of its unsuspecting victim and in some cases the coyotes do this thorugh several inches of snow. Click here for a picture of a coyote attack on a mouse For cottontails, jackrabbits and similar sized game, the coyote approaches the same as before but normally has to run down the quarry due to the prey's speed and alertness. In mid-winter when game becomes scarce, coyotes may form packs to hunt bigger game such as elk, deer and mule deer. In most areas, the victims are already crippled by some other means and the coyotes team up to make short work of dispatching there prey. In areas where snowfall is exceptionally deep, coyotes target the above big game animals as their long legs and heavy bodies makes them sink deep into the snow thus limiting their maneuverability and speed making them easy prey for coyotes.

All information on this site is by Dustin Caudill. E-mail for permission to use information or picture at