Canis latrans  

Within North America, there are seven species representing members of the Genre Canis. These include the wolf, arctic fox, swift fox, red fox, grey fox, and the domestic dog. It is my personal opinion that the coyote is one of the most amazing. An extremely intelligent and playful animal, the ultra-adaptible coytote has been steadily increasing it's range and population througout the continent despite focused and persistent persecution by people. This is partly due to homo sapiens relatively successful efforts in the elimination of the much larger wolf across much of north america.  

Coyote Portrait
The North American Coyote

Originally coined "coyotl" by the ancient Aztecs, Canis latrans is the latin name coined for the the North American Coyote. The name means "barking dog", and if you have ever spent any time listening to coyote vocalizations it is not difficult to feel how appropriate this is.  
Physical Characteristics  

Many people have a somewhat misguided impression regarding canis latrans. Literature is awash with descriptions about a mangy, stinky flea infested animal. Anyone who has seen a coyote in it's full winter glory will tell you something quite different.

Published physical data on the coyote has male individuals weighing in between 20 and 40 pounds, however I have shot and recovered particularly large individuals whos weight was in excess of 50 pounds. It is worth mentioning that these were extremely well fed and FAT coyotes! These "huge" coyotes are also one of the benefits of living in a northern is my understanding that coyotes living in more temperate climates do not pork up as much as those living at higher lattitudes. The coyote stands approximately 23 to 26 inches tall, and measure 3.5 to 4.5 feet long, including their 12 inch bushy tails. Female coyotes are approximately 4/5 the size of their male counterparts.

Coyotes have large, pointy ears that stand erect over their head, a long & slender snout extending from a black nose in an almost continuous line up to their forhead, Their piercing yellow eyes always strike me with an expression of extreme cunning. In it's mouth hide four long and slender canine teeth, with rows of triangular and extremely sharp bicuspids designed for shearing flesh hinding in behind.

While primarily a grizzled grey with long tawny legs that vary from a rusty red to a buffish yellow, I have seen a wide range of coloring ranging from near white, through silver, to almost black. They typically have a well furred neck, sometimes looking a little scrawny in the legs. Coyotes undergo one major molting per year, shedding their brilliant winter coat throughout the spring and summer, where come fall they begin to puff back up for the upcomming winter months. I'll tell you again that there is nothing quite as stunning as seeing the wind blowing through the hair of a well-furred winter coyote.

Coyotes are particularly agile animals. Their average trotting speed is somewhere between 20 and 30 km/hour, but are cabable of bursts up to 65km/hour. While watching them trot along during their daily routine, as well as responding to a call, I have seen them change course and jinx around like a fighter pilot with the entire russian airforce close in pursuit. They have also been seen swimming in the pursuit of prey.  
Distribution and Habitat  

Traditionally, the coyote's range had been limited to the aspen parkland, short and mixed grass prairie, and the deserts of central and western North America, however this has been increasing dramatically over the past 100 years. While most of my coyote sightings occur in open or semi-wooded habitat, the coyote has been steadily spreading across north america such that they are now spread north into the boreal forests, west into the mountains, and east onto the canadian shield. Most of the conditions that are throught to contriute to this habitat expansion are believed to be anthropogenic (created by people). These include deforestation, provision of carrion from domestic livestock, and a steady removal of many of the coyote's chief competitors: namely the wolf and the grizzly bear.  

Coyote Range
The coyote continues to expand it's range across North America. They have even been spotted on the island of Newfoundland (off the east coast of Canada)...thought to have crossed the winter ice from Labrador!

Where once long unbroken stretches of trees drifted off into the distance, a patchwork of grazing lands, crop lands, brush, and small patches of bush and trees provide the coyote with an environment so ideal it is if it was tailor made for them. Being a scavanger as well as a predator, coyotes benefit a great deal from the carcasses of domestic wildlife. With repect to the wolf, less competition for key prey species by more dominant canines has been the key benefit contributing to the coyote's success. With a decline in wolf populations, wild ungulate populations have also been on the rise in recent years. With a combination of the coyote's ability to hunt these species relatively successfully in both fawning season in times of deep snow, and the added benefit of more carcasses as a result of deer over-population/winterkill, life can be good for Canis latrans.  

Mixed Terrain
Currently, coyotes are thriving across North America. Mixed type of terrain such as this grazing area on a river floodplain provides ideal habitat for this extremely sophisticated predator.
Social Systems  

Coyote vocalizations, all that yelping, howling, yipping, squealing, wailing and barking we associate with the sinking and rising sun, offer us an autitory glimpse into the complex social world of the coyote. When one coyote begins it's piercing evening revery, this very often triggers a veretable orchestra of other individuals giving rise to an impressive symphony of sound. After hearing this, it is not hard to believe that coyotes use this as a form of communication between individuals.

Many of the coyotes I have been fortunate enough to wintess going about their daily lives have been doing so either by themselves, or in pairs. There have been some instances though where I have seen packs of coyotes scavenging a piece of carrion, walking amidst large herds of cattle, or watching with cunning a herd of deer.

Like other canines, coyotes possess powerfully smelling anal glands and potent urine that they use to communicate with other coyotes. Territorial animals, they will mark the boundaries of their territory with scraps, urine scent posts, and defecation, and then defend this territory from the encroachment of other coyotes. This instinctual territoriality is something I expliot fairly often with good results when hunting coyotes.

Ultimately, the coyote has what I believe to be the most flexible social behaviroal structure and use this to their advantage. When small prey animals are abundant, you are most likely to see individual or paired coyotes working their way carefully through their habitat. When food becomes more scarce, they will pack up to hunt large prey and defend their kills from other predators and scavengers.  

So what does a coyote eat? The answer might surprise you. Thought by most people to be primarily carnivores (and it is their meat eating habits that we also try to exploit via calling), in truth the coyote will eat just about anything. Rabbits, hares, ground squirrels, mice, berries, fruits, insects, carrion, sheep, chickens, new born calves, fawns, deer, antelope, even cow manure! They will scavange the kills of other predators also, as well as eating a large amount of carrion and winter-kill. Ultimately, it is their environmental conditions that to a large degree suggest what you will find if you are watching to see what the coyotes are eating.  

Coyote from carcass
I shot this coyote over a cow carcass...his stomach, ballooned out to the size of a soccer ball, was stuffed full of meat and bome from the carcass. Despite being full, he was not slowing down at all in the eating department! If you ever get the chance to watch coyotes interact around a kill or carcass, invest whatever time you can into watching. It is an invaluable experience.
Coyote Dens and Reproduction  

Coyotes make extensive use of many different denning sites. While these dens may be used year round, they serve particular purpose in the early spring and summer when coyotes are raising their pups. I have seen a wide variety of different coyote dens: some have been dug under large trees, sometimes a craggy opening in an outcropping of stones, but most often an earth excavation on the side of a hill. The coyotes seem to prefer sites on the banks of a stream or other such funnel in the landscape, and these dens are often located within close proximity to water. Coyotes will prepare multiple den sites, and are not at all hesitant to pick up and relocate from one to another. In fact, as little as two relatively unintrusive (no disturbance within 5 meters of the den) visits from me has been sufficient to make a willy coyote decide that it is time to abandon a den site and move on. The great thing about this is that the abandonned den site may soon be taken up by another coyote/coyote pair as they are moving through....thus the same den site might see several different occupants throughout the years.  

Coyote Habitat I
Looking for a den? Many of the dens that I have found have been located on very sheltered banks...quite often north facing pine covered slopes situated very close to water.

Coyotes pair bond, and these bonds may last many seasons, if not the lifes of the animals. A coyote becomes sexually mature about one year from birth, and sets out to find that special someone soon after. Mating usually begins late in the winter months (February/March), and gestation of the pups is between 60 and 63 days. Both male and female coyotes take active roles in the raising of their young. If you are getting ot to the field enough, you can tell when the pups are about to be born, as the pair will thorougly clean the den prior to the big event. A litter will typically consist of three to seven pups, who will be born blind and covered with a fine tawny fur. The female will remain with the cubs, and the male will take up hunting operations for his mate. The pups are weaned from the female coyote at about one month, where the adults continue to provide for their young by barfing up partially digested prey.

About three weeks after the pups are born, they begin to venture outside then den. Their parents are extremely protective, and have developped a sophisticated array of protective measures designed to keep the pups safe. The adult coyotes have often been observed barking a warning to the pups (that sends them scurrying into the den), then attempting to lure the threat away from the den site. As the pups grow, the adults begin to teach them ho to hunt. Depending on availability of local food sources, when the summer draws to an end the young coyotes will either leave home in search of their own territory, or stay with the adults and form larger extended family units.  

Coyote Den
Many times I have walked within meters of a coyote den and never known it was there. Here is a den site dug into the root sustem of a pine tree and beautifully concealed. I had walked by the den many times; it was not until there was snow on the ground and I was tipped off by a large amount of nearby sign that allowed me to discover the den. Coyotes are masters of camouflage.
Parasites and Disease  

The life of a coyote is not all good. Sarcoptic mange is an infection of microscopic mites that wreak havoc on coyote populations. The Mange seems to be cyclic with respect to it's life cycle with bad outbreaks infecting 30% or more of a given population approximately every seven years. To be infected with mange is a horrible event in a coyote's causes a thickening of the skin, sever loss of hair, itching, and almost always a long and drawn out death. Coyotes are also suseptable to many ther parasites such as heartworm, distemper, hookworm, rabies, and parvo virus. These diseases can infect domestic dogs, so if you your dog ever accompanies you on a coyote expedition, make sure that his/her shots are up to date. Around my house, coyotes are also notorious for their resident flea populations. These fleas not only infect your pets, but you as take care!  
Tracks & Sign  

There is alot you can learn from just about any animal by studying its sign. The coyote is no different. Once you have spent some time observing and participating with sign, it can unlock many secrets about how coyotes go about their daily lives. If you are hunting coyotes and come across one inbetween stands, or see one responding to your calls and then hanging up some distance out, one suggestion I have for you is to not always focus your efforts on killing the coyote. There is big value in sometimes watching them from a distance. This way, you get to see what the coyote is doing as it is making sign and the potential for learning is huge. This above anything has taught me many valuable lessons about interpreting sign and beginning to understand its' author.

While there are many subtle forms of sign created by just about every animal, there are two that probably tell you the most about what an animal has been up to recently. Track and scat. Tracks are probably the most obvious, and with a little practice, observation, and thought, they can paint a pretty vivid picture sometimes.

A coyotes' paw is noticibly more elongated that that of the domestic dog, and while there are some instances when a coyote is movong about where its' paws will open up (such as when traversing loose sand or snow), this is a key indicator in identifying coyote track. The front paw is considerably larger than the rear, and the when striking the ground the back two pads of the rear foot rarely print. Two of the coyote's four non-retractible claws will typically print.  

Footprint in the Mud
A coyote's front and rear footprint.
Coyote Den I
Get out enough and look hard enough and you might find the local coyote's den! Following sign is invaluable experience...on this particular day I followed a set of tracks right to the bedroom. Steam was comming out from inside.
Coyote Den
In the winter, I sometimes make a day out of following coyote sign. You never know where they may lead you!
Coyote Den
A den with some recent signs of exavating.

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