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Canis latrans


In Latin, Canis latrans means “barking dog.”

Physical Characteristics

The color of the coyote’s pelt varies from grayish-brown to yellowish-gray on the upper parts, while the throat and belly tend to have a buff or white color. The forelegs, sides of the head, muzzle and paws are reddish-brown. The back has tawny-colored underfur and long, black-tipped guard hairs that form a black dorsal stripe and a dark cross on the shoulder area. The black-tipped tail has a scent gland on its dorsal base. Coyotes shed once a year, beginning in May with light hair loss, ending in July after heavy shedding. The triangular ears are proportionately large in relation to the head, while the feet are relatively small in relation to the rest of the body. Certain experts have noted the shape of a domestic dog’s brain case is closer to the coyote’s in shape than that of a wolf’s. Mountain-dwelling coyotes tend to be dark-furred, while desert coyotes tend to be more light brown in color.

Coyotes typically grow to 30-34 in (76-86 cm) in length, not counting a tail of 12-16 in (30-41 cm), stand about 23-26 in (58-66 cm) at the shoulder and weigh from 15-46 lb (6.8-21 kg).

The upper frequency limit of hearing for coyotes is 80 kHz, compared to the 60 kHz of domestic dogs.

The fastest of all native North American canids, coyotes can run up to 40 miles per hour for short stretches, cruise for longer periods at 25 to 30 mph, and cover 14 feet in one leap.

One way to tell the coyote apart from wolves and dogs is to watch its tail when it runs. The coyote runs with its tail down. Dogs run with their tails up, and wolves run with their tails straight out.


Coyotes can be found in a variety of habitats including fields, plains and bushy areas.


Hungry coyotes eat almost anything that won’t kill them, though they specialize in certain foods seasonally. In spring, rabbits, voles, mice and fawns dominate their diets. Coyotes also hunt ground squirrels in the spring, as well as skunks, opossums, snakes and other animals. When summer comes, they add large quantities of insects, including crickets and grasshoppers to their diet. They also eat wild and cultivated fruits. In fall, their diets expand to include cultivated nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, and in winter they eat toyon berries and deer.

After locating a small mammal by vision or hearing, a coyote closes on it quickly and, at the last minute, makes a graceful, leg-tucked leap, pinning the animal under its paws when it lands. When hunting larger prey like deer, coyotes hunt in packs. One or more coyote chases the deer while the others wait; then the next group will pick up the chase. Working in teams like this the coyote can tire the deer out, making it easier to kill.

The coyote-badger partnership – These two species are such good hunting partners that they even travel together on occasion. With its keen senses, a coyote will find and chase a squirrel, forcing it to escape down a burrow. The coyote’s badger cohort, if it is at the right spot at the right time, will dig down quickly to snag the squirrel. The coyote gets nothing out of that deal but scores at other times by waiting near a ground squirrel colony while the badger digs. If a squirrel dashes out, the coyote will dab it. When hunting in tandem with badgers, coyotes probably catch 30% more ground squirrels than when they hunt alone.

Coyotes also receive help from golden eagles and ravens, who guide them to potential prey or to fresh carcasses that they want coyotes to tear open for them.

The average distance covered in a night’s hunting is 2.5 mi (4.0 km).


Though coyotes have been observed to travel in large groups, they primarily hunt in pairs. Typically packs consist of 6 closely related adults, yearlings and young. Coyote packs are generally smaller than wolf packs, and associations between individuals are less stable, thus making their social behavior more in line with that of the dingo. In theory, this is due to an earlier expression of aggression, and the fact that coyotes reach their full growth in their first year, unlike wolves, which reach it in their second. Common names of coyote groups are a band, a pack, or a rout. Coyotes are primarily nocturnal, but can often be seen during daylight hours. They were once essentially diurnal, but have adapted to more nocturnal behavior with pressure from humans.

Coyotes like to place their dens on slopes, steep banks or rock ledges, well oriented for maximum solar exposure. They sometimes enlarge abandoned badger dens or ground squirrel complexes, but they also dig their own homes from scratch. Coyote lairs often have several entrances, hidden in brushy thickets, which lead to a maze of interconnecting tunnels up to 25 feet long. They use well-situated dens year after year, generation after generation, sometimes for 60 years. Each pack has several of these hideaways, and they move pups to alternate homes 2 to 3 times in the first month, sometimes carrying them as far as 2 ½ miles.

The coyote is a very vocal animal. It has a number of vocalizations including barks, growls, yips, whines and howls. It uses a long howl to let other members of the pack know where it is. It uses short barks to warn of danger. When a pack of coyotes is welcoming a member into the pack the coyotes yip. Other vocalizations include growls when establishing dominance, whining and whimpering when males and females are establishing bonds and high-pitched barks to summon puppies.

Coyotes travel in single file, stepping precisely in each other’s foot-prints. You might think you are following one animal across open terrain, only to see it turn into many once the tracks enter a forest and the hunters fan out to search for prey.

Coyotes have been known to live up to 14 years in the wild and 18 years in captivity. They seem to be better than dogs at observational learning.

coyote tracks

Coyote Tracks


Females have one estrous period per year between late January and early March. Most females don’t breed until their 2nd year. They mate from late January to early March, with the young born 63 days later (late March to early May): 4 to 6 pups in normal years, 6 to 8 if pack members have recently been killed. Pups leave dens and begin eating solid food as early as 3 weeks; they are weaned at 5 to 7 weeks. If they disperse, they do so in autumn and early winter as food becomes scarce. Some coyotes migrate to high elevations in summer.


The most common enemy that coyotes face is disease. Bears and mountain lions will also prey upon coyotes; golden eagles and great horned owls prey on pups. Humans pose problems for coyotes as they try to navigate across our busy roads. Many coyotes are struck and killed by cars every year.

Killing coyotes produces more coyotes – A coyote family usually consists of a alpha pair, 4 to 6 pups during the summer months, and offspring of various ages from previous years. The alpha male and female stay together for as long as 12 years, but rarely for life.

When members of a family are killed (usually beta coyotes, yearlings, or pups), the size of a pack drops for up to one year, resulting in a temporary increase of available prey for pack members. Outsiders may then join the pack and mate with existing pack members, and the alpha male might mate with a subordinate female in addition to his mate. When multiple females give birth, they produce 6 to 8 pups each instead of the usual 4 to 6 – a biological response triggered by increased food supplies.

The abundance of food also results in unusually high survival rates for the pups, making it necessary for the adults to fill 2 to 3 times the usual number of mouths. But remember that the increase in food resulted from the loss of one or more pack members, so there are now fewer adults available to hunt. Large prey, like lambs and sheep, become a serious temptation.

Attacks on Humans

Coyote attacks on humans are uncommon and rarely cause serious injuries, due to the relatively small size of the coyote, but have been increasingly frequent, especially in southern California. In the absence of the harassment of coyotes practiced by rural people, urban coyotes are losing fear of humans, which is further worsened by people intentionally or unintentionally feeding coyotes. In such situations, some coyotes have begun to act aggressively towards humans, chasing joggers and bicyclists, confronting people walking dogs, and stalking small children. Non-rabid coyotes in these areas will sometimes target small children, mostly under the age of 10, though some adults have been bitten.



Coyote, from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Secrets of the Oak Woodlands – Plants & Animals Among California’s Oaks by Kate Marianchild