General Information About Coyotes | Urban Coyote Research (2023)

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  2. General Information About Coyotes

General Information About Coyotes | Urban Coyote Research (1)

Scientific name: Canis latrans


General Information About Coyotes | Urban Coyote Research (2)

Typical profile: long snout and large upright ears

The coyote is a medium-sized member of the dog family that includes wolves and foxes. With pointed ears, a slender muzzle, and a drooping bushy tail, the coyote often resembles a German shepherd or collie. Coyotes are usually a grayish brown with reddish tinges behind the ears and around the face but coloration can vary from a silver-gray to black. The tail usually has a black tip. Eyes are yellow, rather than brown like many domestic dogs. Most adults weigh between 25-35 pounds, with a few larger individuals weighing up to 42 pounds.


(Video) What Are Wild Coyotes Doing in the Big City?

Although coyotes can use any habitat, they typically prefer open areas, such as the prairie and desert. Current research is dedicated to understanding coyote habitat selection within urban areas, in order to understand if coyotes benefit from human-associated developments (i.e. are synanthropic species) or if they are merely occurring in human-populated areas due to increased sprawl and fragmentation.

In urban areas, coyotes prefer wooded patches and shrubbery, which provides shelter to hide from people. Our research has found that within the urban matrix, coyotes will avoid residential, commercial, and industrial areas but will use any remaining habitat fragments, such as those found in parks and golf courses.


General Information About Coyotes | Urban Coyote Research (3)

Coyotes can capture large prey but will also feast on berries and plants

Some people believe that urban coyotes primarily eat garbage and pets. Although coyotes are predators, they are also opportunistic feeders and shift their diets to take advantage of the most available prey. Coyotes are generally scavengers and predators of small prey but can shift to large prey occasionally. Researcher Paul Morey analyzed scat (fecal matter) contents at different locations within our study area. After investigating 1,429 scats, he found that diet items varied across space and time, which reflects the flexible food habits of coyotes.

The most common food items were small rodents (42%), fruit (23%), deer (22%), and rabbit (18%). (Scats often have more than one diet item; therefore, frequencies do not necessarily add up to 100%). Apparently, the majority of coyotes in our study area do not, in fact, rely on pets or garbage for their diets.

Another way coyote diets can be determined is by performing necropsies (like autopsies in people) of deceased coyotes. These are either study animals that died or road-killed animals that are found; even though they are dead, these coyotes still provide a wealth of knowledge about their lives. For diet analysis, the stomach and intestinal tract are investigated to classify and quantify contents. The diet results found by Morey is often mimicked by what is found through necropsy. Rodents are nearly always present in the diet, with a mixture of other items depending on the season. Stomach contents may provide the most exact picture of what a coyote is eating because it is not yet digested and still identifiable. While this only shows the most recent meal of any animal, when compared to many other mortalities, results are consistent.

Visit the new research page for information on a novel scientific procedure we are now using to further investigate diets.


(Video) The rise of the urban coyote

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Coyote den example

Mating and Gestation

Coyotes typically mate in February, however, only the alpha pair in a pack will mate and subordinates will usually help raise the young. Coyotes appear to be strongly monogamous and so far, bonds between alpha pairs have only been broken upon the death of one of the pair. Therefore, a number of pairs have maintained bonds for multiple years (read the story about coyotes 1 and 115). In April, after a 62 to 65-day gestation period, the female will begin looking for existing dens or dig one herself.

The Den

Pup season is the only time coyotes will voluntarily use a den; otherwise, coyotes usually sleep above ground in the open or in cover. Dens may consist of a hollowed-out tree stump, rock outcrop, or existing burrow made by raccoons, skunks or other medium-sized carnivores. Coyotes will also build dens from scratch by digging a hole. They usually prefer some protective cover at the den, such as bushes or trees, and some type of slope for drainage. It is not uncommon for mothers to move their young from den to den to keep them protected or to re-use the same den in multiple years. Some coyotes select secluded areas for their dens, whereas others in more urbanized areas have less selection and may use dens near buildings or roads or even in parking lots.

The Litter

Litter sizes often range from four to seven pups, though some litters can be bigger and some smaller. The largest litter found during this study held 11 pups in one den. Coyotes have the ability to adjust their litter sizes based on food abundance and population density. While it is difficult to get reliable estimates of litter sizes in urban areas, best estimates suggest that litter sizes are larger than average, indicating an abundant food supply. Pups stay in the den for about six weeks and then begin traveling short distances with adults. By the end of summer, pups are spending some time away from parents and attempting to hunt on their own or with siblings.

Life Expectancy

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The most common cause of death for urban coyotes

In captivity, coyotes can live 13 to 15 years but in the wild, most die before they reach three years of age. The oldest confirmed wild coyote so far in this research was an eleven-year-old alpha female, Coyote 1. In this study, we found that coyotes in the Chicago area generally have a 60% chance of surviving one year. Many pups die from a variety of causes during their first few ventures away from their homes. Survival is fairly consistent among seasons, even during the winter. Survival rates of adult coyotes in the Chicago metropolitan area are similar to estimates for coyotes living in rural Illinois. However, the survival rates of juvenile coyotes in Cook County are approximately five times higher than the 13% survival rate reported for rural juvenile coyotes. Rural Illinois is dominated by row-crop agriculture and hunting of coyotes occurs year-round without any regulatory constraints, such as bag limits. Given this intensive hunting and trapping pressure found in rural Illinois, coyote vulnerability is magnified during parts of the year in which substantial cover/shelter (e.g. agricultural crops) is lost due to crop harvesting. Large metropolitan areas, on the other hand, provide more year-round protection since there is no seasonal loss of habitat via crop harvesting and a lack of intensive hunting pressure.

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Breakdown of 281 radio-collared coyote deaths (years 2000 to 2014)

(Video) Why urban coyote sightings are on the rise

By far, the most common cause of death for urban coyotes has been collisions with vehicles (40 to 70% of deaths each year). Given the large areas traversed by coyotes and the number of roads regularly crossed during their activities, this is not surprising. Some of the roads crossed by coyotes in this study have average traffic volumes of more than 100,000 vehicles every 24 hours. Other causes of death have included shootings and malnutrition; disease is primarily due to mange; and sometimes the death is just too complicated to determine a reason. Few coyotes make it through their full potential life spans, unlike Coyote 1 who died of natural causes despite existing in a heavily urbanized area.

Coyote Social Life

General Information About Coyotes | Urban Coyote Research (7)

Coyotes can live in packs or as solitary animals

Coyotes typically have a highly organized social system, even in urban areas. This consists of packs, or groups, of coyotes that defend territories from other coyotes. In Cook County, coyotes have been identified as living in packs as well as traveling alone (solitary coyotes). Packs are usually composed of an alpha male and female pair, and a few other coyotes. Genetic analysis of coyotes has revealed that nearly all pack mates are close relatives, except for the alpha pair.

Defending Territories

Observations (during tracking, helicopter flights, and trapping) have revealed that the coyotes in this study maintain their territories as groups. Group size in protected habitats is typically five to six adults in addition to pups born that year. Territories have very little overlap, so the coyotes defend these areas from other groups. In rural areas, especially where hunting and trapping are common, the group may only consist of the alpha pair and the pups.

Hunting & Travel

Although coyotes live in family groups, they usually travel and hunt alone or in loose pairs. In this way they are different from wolves, which sometimes leads to the impression that coyotes do not form packs since they are usually seen alone.

Solitary Coyotes

In addition to resident packs, the urban population also consists of solitary coyotes that have left packs and are looking to join groups or create their own territories. Between one-third and one-half of the coyotes studied each year are solitary animals. They can be either males or females and are usually young coyotes (six months to two years old) but can also be older individuals who have left packs. Solitary coyotes travel over large areas, up to 60 square miles covering many different municipalities; some coyotes may even disperse to different states. These animals must travel between and through, resident coyote territories. Read the story about coyote 571 for an example of this coyote social class.

If a coyote is seen running across a field, it is impossible to know if it is a solitary coyote or a member of a pack from that sighting.



Coyote 1 was the first coyote captured on the project



A solitary animal focused on her routine



Coyote 1's second mate

(Video) Coyote Populations on the Rise


What are some facts about coyote behavior? ›

When living in close proximity to humans, coyotes tend to be nocturnal but may also be active in the early morning and at sunset. In areas with little or no human activity, coyotes will hunt during the day, and when a litter of pups needs to be fed, they may have to hunt around the clock.

What are coyotes most known for? ›

Noted for its nightly serenades of yaps and howls, the coyote is primarily nocturnal, running with tail pointed downward and sometimes attaining a speed of 64 km (40 miles) per hour. Coyotes are extremely efficient hunters, and their senses are keen.

What is the behavior of a coyote? ›

Most coyotes are nervous and fear humans. Studies have seen that coyotes will naturally avoid humans in urban areas by shifting to nocturnal activity patterns when visiting urban neighborhoods. As coyotes become habituated to humans they tend to loss their fear and desire to avoid people.

Why coyotes are a problem? ›

The presence of coyotes in a community can be alarming to those who are not used to living with them. Occasional attacks by coyotes on pets and coyote aggression toward people (although rare) can trigger an alarm from people who fear for the safety of their pets and children.

What do coyotes hunt the most? ›

Coyotes are generally scavengers and predators of small prey but can shift to large prey occasionally. The most common food item for coyotes is small rodents.

What are coyotes weakness? ›

Swift, tough and wily, the coyote has only 2 known weaknesses: it sleeps heavily and looks back while fleeing, both of which the savvy hunter can take advantage of.

What threats do coyotes face? ›

Unless they are habituated to humans, coyotes are generally shy and wary of people. Coyotes sometimes succumb to wolves, mountain lions, and bears.

What damage do coyotes do? ›

Coyotes can cause damage to a variety of resources, including livestock, poul- try, and crops such as watermelons. They sometimes prey on pets and are a threat to public health and safety when they frequent airport runways and residential areas, and act as carriers of rabies.

What state is known for coyotes? ›

Coyotes (Canis latrans) are found through most of California. The California Department of Fish and Game estimates a population range of 250,000 to 750,000 individuals. Coyotes are very adaptable and inhabit most areas of the state with the exception of the centers of major metropolitan areas.

What do coyotes need to survive? ›

Coyotes eat a wide variety of food, and like most animals, prefer food that is easiest to obtain. They are true omnivores, and will eat a wide variety of foods, including rodents, rabbits, insects, lizards, snakes, vegetables, and fruits. They will also take advantage of unsecured garbage and pet food left outdoors.

What habitat do coyotes live in? ›

The coyote is found in a variety of habitats including fields, plains, and bushy areas. The coyote makes its den in a rocky crevice, log, cave, or the den of another animal. It usually doesn't dig its own den; it finds an abandoned den of a badger or a fox and enlarges it.

What are coyotes scared? ›

Coyotes don't like loud noises and flashing lights. Installing motion-sensor lights, or like, launching a night club, in your yard will help to discourage coyotes from prowling there. Your neighbors will prefer the motion-sensor lights to the raging bass and colored strobes. You've been warned.

What time of day are coyotes most active? ›

Coyotes are not strictly nocturnal. They may be observed during the day, but are generally more active after sunset and at night. You may see and hear coyotes more during mating season (January - March) and when the young are dispersing from family groups (October - January).

What makes coyotes aggressive? ›

This generally occurs when a coyote has been fed (in the form of handouts, pet food left outside, or unsecured garbage). Coyotes who come to depend on these sources of food may begin to approach humans looking for a handout and may begin to exhibit what's perceived as “too tame” or aggressive behavior.

What kills coyotes? ›

Gray wolves, cougars, American black and grizzly bears, American alligators, large Canada lynxes, and golden eagles eat coyotes. Regardless of its fierce hunting skills, the coyote sure knows its boundaries regarding the food chain.

Why can coyotes be killed? ›

Coyotes directly or indirectly help to control disease transmission, keep rodent populations in check, consume animal carcasses, increase biodiversity, remove sick animals from the gene pool, and protect crops.

Are coyotes helpful or harmful? ›

Coyotes play an important role in the ecosystem, helping to keep rodent populations under control. They are by nature fearful of humans. However, if coyotes are given access to human food and garbage, their behavior changes. They lose caution and fear.

Where do coyotes hide during the day? ›

Dens may consist of a hollowed-out tree stump, rock outcrop, or existing burrow made by raccoons, skunks or other medium-sized carnivores. Coyotes will also build dens from scratch by digging a hole. They usually prefer some protective cover at the den, such as bushes or trees, and some type of slope for drainage.

What animals attract coyotes? ›

Free-roaming pets, especially cats and sometimes small dogs, may attract coyotes into certain neighborhoods. The best way to minimize risk to your pets is to not leave them outside unattended. Other domestic animals kept outside, such as chickens and rabbits, may also be viewed as prey by coyotes.

What diseases do coyotes carry? ›

Coyotes can carry diseases like distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, rabies, mange, and tularemia.

What animals are coyotes scared of? ›

The most common guardian animals include llamas, donkeys, and dogs. When protecting your livestock from coyotes, a donkey would be your best bet. Donkeys are extremely aggressive towards coyotes and foxes, and will not hesitate to attack them and run them off of your property.

What is the coyotes natural enemy? ›

Cougars, wolves, grizzly bears and black bears are known to kill coyotes, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Golden eagles have been known to swoop down and take young coyotes. Humans kill coyotes too, for their fur and in attempts to control their populations.

What dog killed coyotes? ›

A Great Pyrenees dog is recovering after killing eight coyotes in Georgia when the animals threatened sheep on his farm. At just 21 months old, the 85-pound dog's protective instincts kicked in last month, according to his owner. "It was chaos," John Wierwille, 55, told The Washington Post about his dog, Casper.

What attracts coyotes? ›

Coyotes are attracted by bread, table scraps, seed, or even birds that come to the feeder. Secure garbage containers and eliminate garbage odors. Don't leave small children unattended outside if coyotes have been seen frequently in the area. Don't allow pets to run free.

What do coyotes protect themselves? ›

If they get too close, they could either grab a small dog or “message” a larger dog who the coyote considers a threat to its territory or its personal space. They can only do this when they get close enough. Don't let them.

Do coyotes target humans? ›

Although coyotes have been known to attack humans (and pets) and as such are a potential danger to people, especially children, risks are minimal and we feel that the majority of attack incidents could be reduced or prevented through modification of human behavior.

What to do if a coyote attacks you? ›

Coyotes aren't large, and they don't want to attack animals that are bigger than them. Since adults usually only weigh around 50 pounds, it won't be hard to make it clear you're a big scary human. Wave your arms above your head and make noise. Yell, clap your hands and tell the coyote to go away.

What are 3 interesting facts about a coyote? ›

They can run up to 40 MPH when chasing prey. Coyotes are frequent communicators that growl, bark, wail, huff, yelp, squeal, and howl. Coyotes are territorial and mark their area with urine. Coyotes are monogamous animals - meaning they mate for life.

What do coyotes do when they see people? ›

Coyotes are naturally timid animals and will usually flee at the sight of a human. If they linger or approach, it's time to begin “hazing.” This is a term applied to the following actions that can be taken to scare coyotes and chase them away: Be as big and loud as possible. Do not run or turn your back.


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