The coyote is one of the most adaptable mammals, found in a variety of habitats ranging from deserts and grasslands, to mountains and city suburbs.
One of the most adaptable animals in the world, the coyote can change its breeding habits, diet and even its group dynamics to survive in a wide variety of habitats. The quick and clever coyote uses keen senses to find and follow prey over long distances if necessary, waiting for the precise moment to attack.
The coyote holds its head up, jaws agape and canines exposed, to make its distinctive howl. Howls by individuals seem to announce location, while pack howls may have a territorial function. The coyote’s tail is used in threat displays. The tail becomes bushy and is held horizontally when the coyote displays aggression. The coyote walks with only its toes touching the ground. It has five digits on the forefeet, including a dew claw, and four digits on the hindfeet. The coyote’s sense of smell is highly developed. The coyote uses smell to locate prey and carrion and to detect the scent left as territorial markers by other coyotes. The coyote’s hearing is very sharp. The ears are also used to communicate rank and mood.
The coyote has spread over a vast range in both North and Central America. The coyote can be found in Alaska, western and central Canada, throughout the U.S. and into Central America as far south as Panama. The coyote’s natural habitat is open grassland, but, like the red fox, it will move wherever food is available.
An opportunistic predator, the coyote draws on a variety of hunting techniques to catch small mammals, such as rabbits, which make up the bulk of its diet. Although it operates as a lone hunter to catch small prey, a coyote may join others to form a pack so that it is able to hunt large mammals, such as deer. The coyote may track down prey and stalk it patiently from a distance or it may use its great stamina to chase prey over long distances.
Several solitary males may gather to court a female at the start of the mating season, but the female forms a relationship with only one of them. The mating season extends from January to March so that the pups are born in spring when food is abundant. The pups are born blind in a natal den. After about 14 days their eyes open and they emerge from the den a few days later.
The pups suckle for five to seven weeks, by the end of summer they can care for themselves. They may leave or stay with their parent, depending on food availability and habitat conditions.
While many predators are under threat due to habitat loss or hunting by humans, the coyote is expanding its range. The main reason for this appears to be the coyotes ability to adapt, which may stem from its guile and its intelligent nature. Alone, in pairs or packs, coyotes maintain territories by marking it with urine. They also use calls to defend territories, strengthen bonds and communicate. Its howls include barks, bark howls and yip howls.
Although the coyote is thriving, it has been persecuted because of its reputation as a predator of domestic farm stock. The coyote is so numerous that it is controlled by an open hunting and trapping season. The species is protected in 12 states in the U.S.