A few weeks ago, June, over at Spatter, was inspired by my friend, Beth, to start a weekly meme: Friday Facts. I loved the idea but had little time, confidence...whatever to participate at first. But I guess I do know a thing or two (I am a college teacher after all), and I can certainly do some research to fill in any knowledge gaps. So here goes, my first Friday Fact post.
Canis Latrans, The Coyote
Since returning to the mountains, (gosh, has it been two years now?) we've heard the coyotes yipping at night several times, an unmistakable sound. In the rental house where we stayed for almost a year, we heard them clearly, as if beneath our window. In the cabin, we've heard them, too, sometimes running on the ridge above the house, sometimes across the creek in our neighbor's field. They're quickly drowned out by our other neighbor's hound dogs. Last year, we even got a glimpse of them. We were decorating the Christmas tree when Mom looked out the window and commented on a big dog she saw crossing the field. Then she said there was another one and were they German Shepherds? We went out on the porch in time to see the smaller (female?) disappear into the woods, with one large male trailing behind, looking right at us haughtily. Not German Shepherds after all--coyotes with their winter coats.
Coyotes belong to the order Carnivora and Family Canidae and can be recognized by their bushy tail, long pointed nose, and pointed ears. They are about the size of a German Shepherd, but thinner and lighter. They can be distinguished from their cousins (wolves and domestic dogs) because coyotes carry their tails low when running. Also, coyotes leave very different tracks in mud or snow. Dogs usually run with their feet side-by-side, leaving two sets of parallel tracks (often meandering), with front and back feet nearly identical. In coyotes, their front feet are slightly larger than the back feet, and shaped differently (more like a frown, while the back pad is shaped more like lips). Coyotes run by placing their back feet in the prints made by the front feet in order to conserve energy and create a single line of prints, usually straight across open areas. Coyotes can run at speed of up to 30 mph for short bursts and can maintain a 20 mph lope for longer periods.
Coyotes call in a series of short high-pitched barks and yodels. They will call at night from an open area, where the sound can travel up to 3 miles or more. As soon as they are old enough to join in hunts, the young pups begin to learn to call. Early in the summer, their sounds can be quite varied as they try to mimic their parents. A common call of the coyote is two short barks and a long wavering yodel.
Coyotes form loose family groups, rather than tight family packs like wolves. Coyote groups may form for short periods, then break apart as the food supply allows. When in larger groups, they may work together to catch larger prey (like deer). Usually they hunt alone or in pairs. One may distract and chase small prey into the waiting jaws of another coyote, and they will take turns chasing and catching.
They mate in February and dig a den under a tree, stump, or rock. A litter of 4-6 fully furred but blind pups is born about 60 days later. Both parents take responsibility in raising the pups. Weaning begins at 3 weeks and at 10 weeks they learn to hunt. By autumn (7-8 months later) they leave their parents to live on their own as adults. A pair of adult coyotes with young may have a territory of about 30 miles, marked with urine and scat. Their scat is easily identified (and we've seen it often): it looks like hairy dog droppings and may contain undigested bones, fur, feathers, or seeds.
In the wild, their diet is made up of rodents, birds, rabbits, even carrion, insects, and fruit. In urban areas, they will eat garbage, small domestic pets, and other animals (raccoons, possums, ducks, etc.).
Coyotes are found in every state in the US, although they are only indigenous to the Southwest desert. They thrive on the habitat disturbances created by humans, and have been seen in farmlands, suburban housing developments, and even major cities and urban areas. They are highly adaptable creatures that are actually quite timid with a natural fear of humans. In urban environments, however, they may have gown accustomed to the presence of humans and are often killed because of human thoughtlessness and carelessness (leaving food or garbage out to tempt the coyotes into greater human interaction).
Coyotes play a major role in many myths and legends of North American native people, and with good reason. They are adaptable, intelligent, fascinating creatures.
And that's a Friday Fact!
Much of the information for this post was taken directly from this article, by Donna Hill.