Living with Wildlife - Coyote

"Coyote" is derived from the Aztec word "coyotl." Prior to 1900, coyotes were found only west of the Mississippi in the U.S. and west of Lake Nipigon in Ontario, Canada. Now, they are everywhere except Hawaii. The coyote has done so well because of the decline in wolf populations and their own ability to adapt, especially to human-disturbed environments and they now thrive in close proximity to people. Coyotes are canids, a family that includes wolves and domestic dogs.

Native Americans consider coyotes to be the smartest animal on Earth and many city dwellers relish seeing and hearing them in town. They are extremely adaptable and adjust to changing conditions rapidly. A variety of lethal and non-lethal control methods are used to control their populations because coyote populations can actually expand in response to eradication attempts.

Coyotes are opportunistic hunters who prey on small mammals, domestic pets and fowl, and livestock. Depending on the food that is available, they will also eat carrion and plants. In Colorado, they are classed as a game species and may be taken year-round with either a furbearer or small game license. Any landowner whose property or livestock is threatened by coyotes may kill them on his own land without a license.

Colorado coyotes are usually rust colored with a gray or white belly and throat. Their average size is 18 inches high by 37 inches long and their weight ranges from 20 to 50 pounds. The males are larger than the females. The coyote has a long, narrow snout, pointed ears and a general dog-like appearance. Their tracks are very similar to other members of the dog family. Depending on diet, their scat varies in size and consistency. It often contains berries, bone fragments, hair, and seeds. You will find droppings atop knolls, near prominent tufts of grass, near boulders, and along trails. While most folks are familiar with the coyote's howl, the animals actually have a language that incorporates a variety of sounds that are used mostly to bring individuals together or to let other coyotes know their location.

Coyotes are found in all habitats from grasslands and deserts to urban areas and mountains. They are most common where mice, rabbits and gophers are found. Coyotes will den on brush-covered slopes, rock ledges, steep banks, in thickets and hollow logs, in the dens of other animals and they will even dig their own burrows. In areas where the major prey is small rodents, coyotes tend to be solitary. In areas where large prey is available, coyotes will travel and hunt in packs. They also tend to be more social in winter when carrion becomes an important food source. Males wander over large areas while females tend to have a home range of only a few square miles. They tend to be nocturnal but in close proximity to humans they become less timid and can be seen often during the day. They are very clever predators with excellent hearing and smell. They use teamwork to bring down big prey and have been known to kill porcupines without getting quilled.

Coyotes typically pair for life, but if one dies the other will search out a new mate. They can and will breed with domestic dogs. Breeding season is between January and March. Males are capable of breeding while still less than a year old. Pups are born from April to mid-May. Litter size is determined by food availability and local population density: low density and lots of food means more pups. The female prepares the den but the male assists in raising the pups and initially supplies most of the food. The pups are born blind and hairless but grow quickly. They start eating meat at 8 weeks of age and start hunting between 8 and 12 weeks old. While the family may hunt together in mid-winter, the pups disperse between November and March and the family never forms a true pack.

Never approach pups or try to take them from a den area. Adults rarely abandon their young and while you might not see them, they are probably very close by and watching you. In the wild where coyotes are actively hunted and trapped they tend to be elusive. Near urban areas or in places where hunting and trapping is not allowed they may be aggressive. Although attacks on humans are extremely rare, in urban areas they can lose their fear of people and have been known to attack young children.

What to do if you live in coyote country:

  • PROTECT YOUR PETS! Coyotes will kill cats and dogs, especially at night. Make sure your yard is appropriately fenced at least 6 feet high and you still may want to keep your pets in a completely enclosed kennel.
  • Don't allow your dogs to run with coyotes, they have been known to turn on dogs in defense of their territory.
  • Leaving pet food outside invites wildlife into your yard and can cause serious problems. Don't do it!
  • Protect your chickens, young calves and sheep. Ask your local extension office for advice.
  • Keep your garbage well secured. Clean garbage cans regularly with hot water and chlorine bleach.

If you meet up with a coyote:

  • Keep your distance and do not approach them, just enjoy the opportunity to watch.
  • Leash your pets when walking them.
  • If a coyote approaches you or your pet, start throwing rocks and sticks to frighten it away.
  • You can also use a loud, authoritative voice to scare them away.

If you have any questions or problems relating to coyotes, please contact the Division of Wildlife. logo
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