The coyote (Canis latrans) is the North American equivalent of the African wild dog. Also known as the prairie wolf or American Jackle, coyotes are an extremely adaptable canine species. They originally inhabited the western and southwestern regions of the continent; they have since expanded across the entire country and are found in all the continental states. Their natural range has in fact expanded 400% over the last century. This phenomenal expansion of the coyote population is due to the fact that, unlike its relative the grey wolf, the coyote is able to reproduce and thrive in metropolitan areas.
The average lifespan of a coyotes is 8 to10 years in the wild. Coyotes weigh 20 to 45 pounds and stand 23-26 inches at he shoulder. Large males will exceed 50 pounds and in northern habitats they can even reach 60 pounds or more. The largest coyote ever recorded (shot in Alberta Canada) weighed in at 74 ¾ pounds. Northern coyotes tend to be a little larger than southern coyotes and may have longer legs, due to the fact that northern coyotes have a 10 to 15% mix of timber wolf genetics.
The Coyote Howl
The coyote’s howl in probably its most distinctive trait. Coyotes are very vocal and communicate with variety of auditory sounds. Various long and short barks, whooping, laughing sounds, yipping, crying, yelping, chanting and over seven different types of howls. Using a combination of these vocalisations the coyotes have diverse calling sequences to aid in communicating to their pack members as well as other packs. Many of the sound coyotes make are not easy to describe exept through their meaning. Below is a list of the longer rage vocalizations they are capable of communicating:
- Challenge howls
- Territorial howls
- Territorial warning howls
- Laughing and whooping noises for intimidation
- Howls indicating danger
- Directional short barks and crying to identify or point out danger or a territory intruder
- Howls indicating loneliness
- Locator howls
- Chants that celebrate reuniting with other pack members
- Chants celebrating a pack kill
- Mating howls (to attract or compete for a mate)
- Territorial barks
- Barks in combination with throat undulations for scolding another coyote (less violent form of territorial communication)
- Yelping to signify submission
- Yelps to signify distress
- Yips to taunt
Coyote Habitat and Diet
Coyotes may claim any habitat or environment as their home. They are very territorial and travel regular circuits they have formally established by means of territorial marks. Urine posts or scent posts are locations that coyotes visit to leave pheromones and excrement as indications of these boundaries. Pack circuits range 7 –15 miles; circuits larger than this are usually the result of scarce food or migratory prey. The boundaries of different packs often overlap each other and confrontations between dominant members of rival packs are violent and deadly.
Coyote packs are comprised of family members only and usually do not exceed six. The integration of a unrelated coyote into the pack is rare but occasionally takes place when the dominant male is looking for a new mate. In areas were predators that prey on coyotes, such as wolfs and sport hunters, do not exist, coyote predation (the killing of coyotes by other coyotes) is the leading cause of death. This predation is to reduce competition and coyotes will often kill members of other packs if the opportunity presents itself. Wolves are the coyote’s only consistent natural predator; a lone wolf occasionally falls prey to a pack a coyotes or is forced off a carcass due to coyote pack aggression, however.
Part of the coyote’s prolific success is do to its incredibly diverse diet. Coyotes are cunning predators; during the warm season, however, their diet becomes omnivorous and includes all sorts of fruits, vegetation, and insects. Coyotes love to hunt and will rarely turn down a chance to run down prey. They will even hunt on full stomachs, just for sport. It has been well- documented that coyotes will harvest multiple animals, far exceeding what they can possibly consume. In instances which domestic animals are present, of if the coyote gets into a penned up area (chicken coop) the total number of kills can be extreme. Coyotes will sometimes taunt larger prey, such as deer and antelope, hoping thereby to frighten the animal and get it to run, leading it into the path of other pack members laying in wait. Part of the coyote’s taunting includes allowing the prey to chase the coyote, baiting the prey and enticing it to be more predictable rather than whimsical. Lone coyotes have been know to do this for hours and hours, exhausting their prey as they chase each other back and forth in a playful manner. Coyotes have far more stamina than hoofed animals and will continue these playful activities until there prey can no longer compete. At that point the coyote turns and attacks unexpectedly.
Coyotes have also been observed corralling hoofed animals out on to frozen lakes. Hoofed animals have a very difficult time traversing ice due to their tall, straight legs and slippery hooves; they are easily taken down once the coyotes have gotten them out onto the ice. Tactics like this are employed by coyote packs across the continent. Some suggest the coyotes discover these advanced hunting techniques from experience, however even young pack members will execute this tactic flawlessly on their first large prey pursuit.
Coyotes are not always successful on theie first attempts with difficult prey. However countless, relentless attempts often exceeding ten hours (and sometimes more than twenty) ensure that the coyote eventually makes the kill. Coyotes’ persistence, endurance and skillful pack hunting allows them to take down prey much larger than themselves. Packs have even been know to bring down adult elk and caribou during the winter when other prey are scarce.
Conflicts between coyotes and humans are frequent across the united states; many believe that they are becoming more common. In some situations were the coyote populations are exploding such as Michigan and Colorado this is certainly true. Most incidents are due to coyote preying on domestic farm animals and outdoor pets (such as dogs and cats);. Humans have been attacked as well, however. In 2009 Canadian singer-songwriter Taylor Mitchell was attacked by coyotes while hiking in Canadian national park. Mitchell was air lifted to a hospital but unfortunately died the next day from her injuries. In Michgan, coyotes are now present in all 83 counties and are especially on the rise in Jackson County and Livingston County. They have been sighted recently in Howell, Brighton, Green Oak, Fenton, Dexter, Chelsea and Gregory.
Between 1985 and 2007 there have been over 60 non-fatal attacks on humans throughout the US and Canada. There is reason to believe that less than half of these incidents are ever reported. Preparing for a potential coyote problem is difficult because these animals are all over the continent in both rural and urban environments and it is difficult to predict when and where they will show up. If you see or hear of any coyote behavior in the area you should take precautions to keep animals inside at night and not leave children outside unattended.
Surprisingly, few wildlife control firms have the experience to be consistently successful in wild canine removal. Trapping canines is a specialized field where a lack in attention to detail or preparation and failure go hand and hand. This is tedious work often requiring tracking skills which are a lost art in most parts of the country. Hear at Creature Control we have expert trappers that are capable of dealing with any number of coyote problems. Live capture and relocation is preferred, but not always practical because of the long distance relocation necessary to keep them from returning. In most states (like Michigan and Ohio) moving wildlife over county lines is illegal and this is often the dilemma when attempting to relocate long ranging coyotes. If you have a problem with coyotes don’t hesitate to call – we are happy to educate clients on the best approach and offer free over the phone consolation.