Coyote Biology and Behavior


Coyotes are most active at night and during early morning hours (especially where human activity occurs), and during hot summer weather. Where there is minimal human interference and during cool weather, they may be active throughout the day.

Coyotes bed in sheltered areas but do not generally use dens except when raising young. They may seek shelter underground during severe weather or when closely pursued. Their physical abilities include good eyesight and hearing and a keen sense of smell. Documented recoveries from severe injuries are indicative of coyotes’ physical endurance. Although not as fleet as greyhound dogs, coyotes have been measured at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour (64 km/hr) and can sustain slower speeds for several miles (km).

Distemper, hepatitis, parvo virus, and mange (caused by parasitic mites) are among the most common coyote diseases. Rabies and tularemia also occur and may be transmitted to other animals and humans. Coyotes harbor numerous parasites including mites, ticks, fleas, worms, and flukes. Mortality is highest during the first year of life, and few survive for more than 10 to 12 years in the wild. Human activity is often the greatest single cause of coyote mortality.

Coyotes usually breed in February and March, producing litters about 9 weeks (60 to 63 days) later in April and May. Females sometimes breed during the winter following their birth, particularly if food is plentiful. Average litter size is 5 to 7 pups, although up to 13 in a litter has been reported. More than one litter may be found in a single den; at times these may be from females mated to a single male. As noted earlier, coyotes are capable of hybridizing with dogs and wolves, but reproductive dysynchrony and behaviors generally make it unlikely. Hybrids are fertile, although their breeding seasons do not usually correspond to those of coyotes.

Coyote dens are found in steep banks, rock crevices, sinkholes, and underbrush, as well as in open areas. Usually their dens are in areas selected for protective concealment. Den sites are typically located less than a mile (km) from water, but may occasionally be much farther away. Coyotes will often dig out and enlarge holes dug by smaller burrowing animals. Dens vary from a few feet (1 m) to 50 feet (15 m) and may have several openings.

Both adult male and female coyotes hunt and bring food to their young for several weeks. Other adults associated with the denning pair may also help in feeding and caring for the young. Coyotes commonly hunt as singles or pairs; extensive travel is common in their hunting forays. They will hunt in the same area regularly, however, if food is plentiful. They occasionally bury food remains for later use.

Pups begin emerging from their den by 3 weeks of age, and within 2 months they follow adults to large prey or carrion. Pups normally are weaned by 6 weeks of age and frequently are moved to larger quarters such as dense brush patches and/or sinkholes along water courses. The adults and pups usually remain together until late summer or fall when pups become independent. Occasionally pups are found in groups until the breeding season begins.

Coyotes are successful at surviving and even flourishing in the presence of people because of their adaptable behavior and social system. They typically display increased reproduction and immigration in response to human-induced population reduction.

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