(Canis latrans) makes itself at home everywhere from the deepest wilderness to towns and even, occasionally, cities. In fact, it is one of the few mammals whose range is increasing in spite of dwindling open spaces and, in some cases, vicious persecution by humans (for example, the State of Maine issues permits for coyote and fox trapping–a controversial practice considered by many to be inhumane.)
Although similar in some respects to wolves, coyotes are much smaller and do not hunt in packs. A typical male coyote weighs from 9 to 23kg, has an overall length of roughly 4 feet, and stands about 2 feet high at the shoulder. The female is usually slightly smaller.
The fur is generally a tawny gray, darker on the hind part of the back where the black-tipped hair becomes wavy. Legs, paws, muzzle, and the back of the ears are more yellowish in color; the throat, belly, and the inside of the ears are whiter. The tail, darker on top and lighter on the underside, is lightly fawn-colored towards the tip, which is black.
The coyote’s fur is long and soft and well suited to protect it from the cold. Because it is light-colored in winter and dark in summer, it blends in well with the seasonal surroundings.
Although primarily a flesh-eater, the coyote will eat just about anything available. Typical foods include rabbits, hares, and small rodents. Blueberries and other wild fruits are commonly eaten in summer and fall. Carrion is also a source of food, especially in winter. Coyotes sometimes prey on deer fawns in spring and summer.
Coyotes appear to be monogamous, and couples may remain together for several years. Both sexes can breed at one year of age under good conditions, although both sexes usually breed somewhat later in life. The mating takes place mainly during February-March; gestation lasts from 60 to 63 days.
The coyote uses a den for the birth and early care of its cubs. It may be located at the base of a hollow tree or in a hole between rocks, but most often consists of a burrow in the soil. The coyote prefers to den on the banks of a stream or the slopes of a gorge and usually chooses a concealed spot. It often enlarges an abandoned marmot or badger burrow. The female may prepare alternative lodgings to enable her family to move to another refuge should trouble occur. Earth, pushed toward the entrance, is piled up onto a fan-shaped heap, which the animal skirts when going in or out. The same shelter may be used for several years.
Before the female gives birth, or “whelps,” the den is thoroughly cleaned. On average, she bears three to seven pups, covered with fine brown fur, whose eyes remain closed for the first eight or nine days.
The male prowls around and brings food to the entrance as long as the pups do not venture from the den. The adults remove refuse as it accumulates. Weaning begins about one month after birth; thereafter the adults regurgitate half-digested food for the pups.
At about three weeks of age, the pups begin to romp around under the adults’ watchful supervision, first inside the shelter, then outside. Should some enemy come too close, the adult utters a special warning bark, then lures the enemy away.
Later, the adults teach the pups how to hunt. When fall comes, the young coyotes may leave their parents to claim their own territory.