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HomeNL-2014-06 5 Nature Nook

Nature Nook
June, 2014
by Paul Woodcock

The Coyote

One of the real pleasures of camping is being in a tent and hearing the howl of coyotes in the distance. To me it seems comforting, not at all like the chill I get from hearing the mystical sound of a pack of wolves howling.

The Cherokee named the coyote "the trickster" and in most of the stories about him he is winning confrontations.

Because coyotes are secretive and are predatory, they can co-exist close to us humans without us ever knowing they are around.  It is this secretiveness that brings about other coyote facts in relation to Native American culture.The coyote is present in a lot of Native American folklore and is often cast in a variety of roles: deceiver, realist, goofball and survivor… these are but a few of the roles that these doggie relatives played. With traits characteristic of humans, the coyote stars in a number of these Indian stories and teachings, much like the white man’s fables and stories with a moral to them.  These coyote tales are passed down generation to generation and used to illustrate the foibles of the human race.

Wile E. Coyote  
Wile E. Coyote in the roadrunner cartoons: coyotes do not eat roadrunners. 

Though coyotes have been observed to travel in large groups, they primarily hunt in pairs. Typical packs consist of six 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. Coyotes are extremely adaptable and use a wide range of habitats including forests, grasslands, deserts, and swamps.  Coyotes, because of their tolerance for human activities, also occur in suburban, agriculture and urban settings.

Coyotes are not large animals; males weigh up to 35 pounds, and females weigh an average of 5 to 6 pounds less. Coyotes weighing 40 pounds or more are rare.

Color varies with individual coyotes, but reddish gray is most common. Some animals, however, may be darker and others more red. Older animals tend to be darker and more reddish, and younger animals are more gray. Coyotes are mostly nocturnal, but they sometimes are active in the daylight hours, especially in cool, cloudy weather. During winter, they can be spotted in the early morning and evening.

Coyotes howl to let other family groups know where their territory lies.


The male coyote is a good provider and does a large share of the hunting while the female stays closer to the pups.

Female coyotes prefer a dry, safe place to have their pups. A common den site is a bulldozed brush and tree pile. The female will crawl into the bulldozed pile and dig out a den under the root wad of a large tree. Another popular den site is under the base of a large, standing tree that has an opening at ground level. Coyote pups sometimes are raised in hollow logs and under rock ledges. Other times, female coyotes may enlarge an abandoned badger or woodchuck burrow.

A female often prepares more than one den in the same area. If there is human disturbance or if the den becomes lice-infested or wet, she will move the pups to another location. Most coyote pups have been moved several times by the time they are old enough to leave the den on their own. If the pups are too small to follow their mother, she carries them one at a time by the nape of the neck to the new den site.

To keep watch over the area, the female may find an elevated place a hundred yards or more away from the den. There she will dig a bed in a grassy, weedy area.

Generally coyote pups are weaned when they are about 6 weeks old. From this time on, they usually do not stay in a den. Instead they live in a brushy, weedy area. Coyotes do not use dens until the following spring when the female has a new litter. The rest of the year, they sleep in a protected place on top of the ground.

In the early stages of feeding the pups, the parents eat their fill of a kill and regurgitate their stomach contents at the den for the pups to eat. As the pups develop, the parents bring them pieces of meat that the pups must chew themselves.  The male coyote is a good provider and does a large share of the hunting while the female stays closer to the pups.

As the summer advances, coyote pups require more and more food, and the parents sometimes are hard pressed to keep them fed. To supplement their diet, coyote pups begin to catch crickets, June bugs, grasshoppers, frogs and other small animals.

As the pups develop, they move over a larger area until they expand their territory from what was less than an acre in June to several acres by late August. During this period, a disturbance, such as mowing or planting, may cause the family to move to a safer place, which could be a mile or more away.

By late October, the pups begin to hunt for themselves and cover more ground. The litter may stay together as a loose family group as the pups begin to disperse in the winter. By spring the family unit usually is dissolved.
  • Coyotes are opportunists, both as hunters and as scavengers. They eat any small animal they can capture, including mice, rats, gophers, mountain beavers, rabbits, and squirrels, also snakes, lizards, frogs, fish, birds, and carrion (animal carcasses). Grass, fruits, and berries are eaten during summer and fall.
  • Grasshoppers and other insects are important to juvenile coyotes learning the stalk-and-pounce method of hunting.
  • Pairs of coyotes or family groups using the relay method pursue small deer and antelope. These mammals are important food in winter; fawns may be eaten in spring.
  • Coyotes eat wild species, but they are known to eat pet food, garbage, garden crops, livestock, poultry, and pets (mostly cats).
  • Coyotes occasionally kill domestic dogs (and foxes) that they consider territorial intruders. Coyotes are also very protective of their young and will attack dogs that get too close to their den and pups. Note: The list of killers of domestic cats and dogs includes other dogs and cats, vehicles, bears, cougars, bobcats, foxes, disease, and furious neighbors!
Most hunting activity takes place at night. Undisturbed and hungry coyotes will hunt during daylight hours, and may be seen following farm machinery, catching voles and other small prey.

They have replaced the areas where the wolf have disappeared. Wolf generally kill them but there have been instances where they have cross bred with them.  More common are the mating between dogs and coyotes creating the coy dog. These hybrids tend to be less afraid of man than the purebred coyote. Most of my research leads me to believe this is more of an urban legend than fact. It is very rare as dogs and coyotes breeding cycles are different. A coyote is more likely to kill a dog rather than breed with it, but it does happen.

  Kansas coyote
I have only been able to get one picture of a coyote, walking down a gravel road in Kansas.

When I was growing up in Kansas there was a $2.00 bounty on a pair of coyote ears, and a lot of hunters ran them with dogs and shot them. One neighbor impressed me with his stalking skills by hunting them with an rabbit call and a large bore pistol  I don’t think he made enough to pay for his ammunition.  The neighboring school district used to use coyote drives to raise money.  They would circle a section of land and walk to the center - whenever a coyote would break through he would be shot, and the ones who were entrapped the hunters would turn loose their kill dogs. I really did not enjoy that aspect of the hunt.  Raffle tickets for various items were sold and they usually had a barbecue.  It was a popular social event.  They still have these events, but usually do not use the dogs. Some states still have a bounty on them and I have seen their tanned hides sell for $30 to $75 depending on the condition. Only a few counties have bounties in Texas, and there are rules you have to follow. 


The earth is my mother
The sky is my father
The animals are my brothers
The canoe brings me closer to them

  The author,  Paul Woodcock