The fur color of coyotes ranges from grayish brown to yellowish gray; they also usually have a black stripe along their spine. Their bellies and throats are white and their feet, parts of their head, and front legs are reddish brown. Their tails have a black tip. Coyotes have large pointed ears that stand straight up and a long tail. They have large yellow eyes and relatively small feet.
Coyotes are native to the Nearctic region. They are found throughout North and Central America. They range from Panama in the south, north through Mexico, the United States, and Canada. They occur as far north as Alaska and all but the northernmost portions of Canada.
Coyotes are extremely adaptable and use a wide range of habitats including forests, grasslands, deserts, and swamps. They are typically excluded from areas with wolves. Coyotes, because of their tolerance for human activities, also occur in suburban, agricultural, and urban settings.
Males court females for 2 to 3 months, pairs mate between January and March. Once females choose a partner they typically stay together for a few years.
Female coyotes are pregnant for 60 to 63 days. An average sized litter is 6 pups, but litter size can range from 1 to 19 pups. When pups are born they are blind, their ears are limp, and they only feed on their mother's milk. After about one month they come out of the den. They are then fed regurgitated food from both parents, as well as their mother's milk. They are weaned at 5 to 7 weeks old. Male pups leave the den when they are 6 to 9 months old, females usually stay with the parents and form a pack. Adult size is reached between 9 and 12 months and they can begin mating when they are one year old. Coyotes can mate with domestic dogs and occasionally with gray wolves.
Female coyotes nurture their young inside their bodies until they are born and then afterwards by nursing them. Both male and female coyotes bring food to their young after they are weaned and protect their offspring. The young sometimes stay with the pack into adulthood and learn how to hunt during a learning period.
Coyotes have been known to live a maximum of ten years in the wild and 18 years in captivity.
Coyotes are active mostly at night and in the early morning and late evening hours but can occasionally be seen during daylight. Although coyotes are capable of digging their own burrows, they often enlarge the burrow of a woodchuck or badger for use as a den. Dens are used for several years. Coyotes usually hunt in the areas surrounding their dens. Coyotes are social animals, living in family units called packs. Packs defend territories against other coyotes, dogs, and wolves. They hunt individually, in pairs, or in family units, depending on how much prey is available and what kinds of prey are available. Coyotes are capable of running at speeds of up to 65 km/hr and they can jump distances of up to 4 m. Coyotes are very good swimmers but poor climbers.
Coyote ranges, which are usually defended only during denning season, may be as much as 19 km in diameter around the den and travel occurs along fixed routes or trails.
Coyotes use their senses of sight, smell, touch and hearing to communicate. They are highly vocal mammals, using 3 distinct calls: squeaks, distress calls, and howl call, which consist of a quick series of yelps, followed by a high-pitched howl. Howling may act to announce where their territory is to other packs. Coyotes also howl when two or more members of a pack re-unite and to announce to each other where they are. Their sense of sight is also well developed and is used primarily to observe the facial expressions and body language of pack members. They use stumps, posts, bushes or rocks as scent posts on which they urinate and defecate to mark territory.
Coyotes are versatile in their eating habits. They are carnivorous; 90% of their diet is mammalian. They eat primarily small mammals, such as eastern cottontail rabbits, thirteen-lined ground squirrels, and white-footed mice. They occasionally eat birds, snakes, large insects and other large invertebrates. They prefer fresh meat, but they consume large amounts of carrion. Part of what makes coyotes so successful at living in so many different places is the fact that they will eat almost anything, including human trash and household pets in suburban areas. Plants eaten include leaves of balsam fir and white cedar, sasparilla, strawberry, and apple. Fruits and vegetables are a significant part of the diet of coyotes in the fall and winter months. Coyotes hunt animals in interesting ways. When on a "mousing" expedition, they slowly stalk through the grass and sniff out the mouse. Suddenly, with all four legs held stiffly together, the coyotes stiffen and pounce on the prey. Hunting deer, on the other hand, calls for teamwork. Coyotes may take turns pursuing the deer until it tires, or they may drive it towards a hidden member of the pack. Coyotes sometimes form "hunting partnerships" with badgers. Because coyotes aren't very effective at digging rodents out of their burrows, they chase the animals while they're above ground. Badgers do not run quickly, but are well-adapted to digging rodents out of burrows. When both hunt together they effectively leave no escape for prey in the area. The average distance covered in a night's hunting is 4 km.
Coyotes are very secretive. Especially near human habitations they are active mostly early in the morning and late in the evening. Coyotes keep their young in or near the den while they are young so that the pups aren't killed by predators and competitors such as wolves and mountain lions.
Coyotes serves as hosts for a number of diseases, including rabies. They are considered a threat to poultry, livestock, and crops. Coyotes may also compete with hunters for deer, rabbits, and other game species.
Coyotes help to control some agricultural pests, such as rodents. Coyote pelts are also still collected and sold in some areas.
Coyotes are common and widespread because of their extraordinary adaptability.
Coyotes are one of the dominant terrestrial carnivores in North America, with humans and wolves being their greatest enemies.
Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Allison Poor (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
Erik Tokar (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
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