Eastern Coyote Basic Information
Eastern Coyote Description:
Eastern Coyotes are about the size of a Border Collie, with males generally larger than females.
» Scientific Name: Canis latrans
» Length: 4-5 feet (nose to tail)
» Weight: 20-45 pounds
» Color/Appearance: Fur is thick and can be variations of brown, black, grey. A Coyote's tail is fluffy and is usually carried pointing straight down. When observed from behind a black spot (precaudal gland) can be seen just below the base of the tail. Coyote ears are large and pointy.
While coyotes are classified as carnivores, they actually eat omnivorous diets including a wide variety of animal and plant materials. They are also opportunistic, feeding on whatever food sources are abundant and easily consumed. The diverse diets of coyotes also vary throughout the year. Annually, their diet includes white-tailed deer, rabbits, small mammals such as mice and voles, raccoons, groundhogs, birds, insects and plant materials. Their diet shifts with seasonal availability of foods. For example, during the summer, coyotes feed upon berries and insects. During early fall they eat more insects and small mammals. Small mammals remain an important prey of choice during late fall and winter. As winter becomes harder and small mammal populations decline, coyotes turn toward their largest prey - white-tailed deer. Deer killed by vehicles and other causes (carrion) can be an important food source for coyotes. Coyotes infrequently kill healthy adult deer. In late spring, coyotes switch to fawns, as it is common to find evidence of fawn hair and bones in scats (fecal material).
Like wolves, coyotes communicate by scent-marking, body language and vocalization. Scat (feces) and urine are deposited in prominent spots along trails to mark territories. When coyotes howl, it often sounds like many individuals, but it is really just a few. Perhaps this is due to echoes off hillsides or the reverberation of the resonant voices through the woods, or simply the hyperactive chorus of yips, yip-howls and yee-haws. It is not uncommon for residents in suburban neighborhoods to awaken to the sound of coyotes howling in a nearby woodlot-a sound formerly associated only with faraway wilderness. For some, this sound is invigorating and a pleasant reminder of nearby wildlife, while others find it eerie and nerve-wracking.
Eastern coyote habitat includes a variety of natural and human-altered environments, including forests and fields, wetlands, suburban areas, and even cities. Commonly believed to live only in the more rural or wild landscapes, coyotes have readily adapted to living close to people.
Coyotes are not strictly nocturnal. They may be observed moving about during the day, yet tend to be more active after sunset and at night.
Eastern coyotes mate for life. While they do not form highly organized packs like wolves, adult coyotes display similar behavior by forming family units of closely related individuals. Adult males and females are the core of the family group. Often, the family group will include young of the year, and may occasionally include yearling coyotes from previous litters. Other coyotes live outside of packs as solitary transients and float between resident coyote families, biding their time until a vacant territory opens.
A Year in the life of eastern coyotes:
The priorities and behavior for a coyote family vary depending on the time of year. Below is an overview of the major events that drive coyote behavior.
» January - February: Courtship and mating occurs between the pack's breeding pair (the coyote mother and father)
» January - April: Generally it's the breeding female who begins to prepare for potential coyote pups by digging a den or locating a pre-existing one: sometimes that of smaller borrowing animal like a badger or groundhog, dowened trees, brush piles, or abandoned structures. Dens are usually well camouflaged and generally used for pup-rearing only.
» March - April: A coyote's gestation period, or length of pregnancy, is 62 days, and usually pups are born between March and April. Typical litter sizes are approximately 4-6 pups.
» May - August: This is the pup rearing period. The pups remain with their mother in the den for the first 4-5 weeks. During this period the breeding male is responsible for provisioning food for the entire family. Coyote pups grow rapidly and are weaned at 5 to 7 weeks of age and abandon den sites around this time as well. >As pups continue to mature they become more independent of their parents, and are occasionally observed moving together in mid to late summer.
» October - December: Dispersal occurs in late October-January, prior to breeding season. These young coyotes that disperse often travel 50 to 100 miles in search of a vacant territory or a mate.
Excerpted with permission from Bogan, D. A. 2014. Rise of the Eastern Coyote. New York State Conservationist. 68(6): 20–23 (article link) and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.