Coyotes: The Complete Guide | What does a Coyote Look Like?

coyote closeup

General Information About Coyotes

What are coyotes? What does a coyote look like?

The coyote is a type of wild dog native to North and Central America. Coyotes are highly adaptable species that can survive in various habitats such as forests, grasslands, deserts, and even urban areas.

Coyotes have a unique appearance with a thin bodies, long snout, and furry tail. They typically weigh between 20-50 pounds and can have fur that ranges from gray to brown, with some individuals having reddish or yellowish fur.

Coyote Geography – Range

In the past century, coyotes have spread across the continent from their western U.S. and Mexican homelands. Today, coyotes can be found in most parts of the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America. They are usually seen in rural and suburban areas but can also be found in more populated urban areas such as parks, golf courses, and even neighborhoods.

Even though they are widespread, coyotes remain misunderstood by many people. Despite their ecological role as predators and scavengers, many people view them as pests or dangerous animals.

Coyotes are one of the most fascinating creatures on earth, and learning about their behavior and biology can foster a better relationship between humans and wildlife and dispel many common myths about them.

How Do Eastern and Western Coyotes Differ in Appearance?

One of the most noticeable differences is in size. Eastern coyotes tend to be larger than their Western counterparts, with adult males weighing 40-55 pounds and adult females weighing 30-40 pounds. In contrast, Western coyotes are typically smaller in size.

However, it is important to note that it is not always the case that these differences are consistent.

Real-life scenarios can vary depending on the individual coyote and the region they inhabit. Also, hybridization between Western and Eastern coyotes can make it difficult to distinguish between them in some cases.

Coyote image by Joshua Wilking via Unsplash

Defending Territories

Coyotes are territorial creatures and will protect their territories from other coyotes or perceived threats. They use various behaviors, including vocalizations, scent marking, and physical aggression, if necessary, to defend their territories.

To defend their territory, coyotes use vocalizations like howls, barks, and growls to announce their presence and warn off intruders.

These vocalizations can be heard from several miles away and serve to establish boundaries without requiring physical conflict.

Coyotes also use scent markings to defend their territory. They mark the boundaries of their territory with urine and feces, leaving their scent to warn other coyotes that the area is already claimed. They may also rub their scent glands on rocks or other objects to mark their territory more prominently.

If an intruder ignores these warnings, coyotes may use physical aggression to defend their territory. They may attack intruders, biting and clawing to drive them away. Sometimes, these confrontations can be lethal for the intruding animal, especially if it is smaller or weaker.

Generally, coyotes are not aggressive toward humans and typically avoid conflict if possible. However, if a coyote feels threatened or if its territory is being invaded, it may become defensive and act aggressively.

It is crucial to give coyotes their space and avoid approaching them, especially if they are with their young or displaying signs of aggression.

Common Coyote-Related Questions

Understanding the role of coyotes in the ecosystem

Coyotes are essential predators that play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance. They primarily hunt small mammals like rodents, rabbits, and hares but can also take down larger animals like deer and livestock. This helps regulate populations and prevent overgrazing and other ecological imbalances.

Besides their role as predators, coyotes are also scavengers that help clean up dead animals and organic matter. This reduces the spread of diseases and promotes nutrient cycling in the ecosystem.

Coyotes have indirect effects on the ecosystem as well. Their presence can influence the behavior of other species, causing them to avoid certain areas or change their activity patterns to avoid being preyed upon. These effects can significantly impact the dynamics of the ecosystem as a whole.

To maintain the well-being and balance of the environment, it is crucial to conserve it. Coyotes are an integral part of this effort by playing a vital role in keeping the ecosystem healthy.

Coyote populations must be maintained and protected to promote a sustainable and thriving environment. This will help to preserve biodiversity and ecological systems.

What do coyotes eat? A closer look at their diet

Coyotes are highly adaptable predators known for their resilience and survival skills in various habitats, from forests to deserts and even urban areas. Their diverse diet is one of the crucial factors behind their success in finding food in challenging environments. A closer look at a coyote’s diet, how it obtains food, and how it adapts is very instructive.

As opportunistic predators, coyotes eat whatever is available to them, mainly small mammals like rodents, rabbits, and hares. They also hunt larger mammals like deer, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. In urban areas, coyotes may scavenge for food in garbage cans and dumpsters or prey on small pets like cats and dogs.

What’s intriguing about coyotes’ diet is their adaptability. Depending on the season and the availability of food, they change their diet. For example, when small mammals are scarce in winter, they may switch to eating fruit, berries, or carrion. In times of drought or environmental stress, they may consume more insects or plant matter to survive.

Coyotes rely on different hunting techniques to capture their prey. Depending on their prey’s size and agility, they may hunt alone or in packs. A coyote locates its prey with the help of its sense of smell and hearing before pouncing on them.

For faster animals like rabbits or birds, they use their speed and agility to chase them down.

In addition to hunting, coyotes are skilled scavengers that eat dead animals’ carcasses and steal food from other predators like wolves or cougars. Their adaptability and resourcefulness are vital to their success as predators and help them thrive in challenging environments.

In conclusion, the coyotes’ diverse diet and hunting strategies make them one of the most adaptable and successful predators of the animal kingdom. Understanding their diet and hunting habits can foster better coexistence between humans and wildlife, promoting appreciation for the coyote’s unique role in the natural world.

what does a coyote look like?
Image by Marg Strickland from Pixabay

Why coyotes howl and what it means

Coyotes are among the most vocal animals in the North American wilderness, and their howls have long been the subject of myths and legends.

One primary reason coyotes howl is to communicate. Howling helps them stay connected when they are far apart, allowing them to coordinate their movements and warn of potential threats.

Coyotes also howl to mark their territory. By howling, they announce their presence to other coyotes in the area, letting them know that their territory is taken.

This is very important, especially during breeding season when competition for mates is intense.

Additionally, male coyotes howl to attract females during mating season. They may use different vocalizations like growls and barks to indicate their intentions.

Coyotes also howl to express their emotions, including excitement, anxiety, or distress. It’s also a way to celebrate a successful hunt or mourn the loss of a pack member.

It’s critical to note that coyotes are generally not a threat to humans and will typically avoid confrontation.

If you encounter a coyote, it’s prudent to give them space and avoid approaching, especially if they are howling or if they should display signs of aggression.

Taking it all into account, coyotes howl for several reasons, including communication, territory marking, mating, and expressing emotions.

Understanding the significance of their howls can foster a better appreciation for these fascinating animals and their unique vocalizations.

Coyotes vs. wolves: Understanding the key differences

Coyotes and wolves are two of North America’s most renowned predators, and while they share some similarities, they also have notable differences.

What does a coyote look like compared to a wolf?

The most striking differences between coyotes and wolves are their size and appearance. Coyotes are smaller than wolves, weighing between 20-50 pounds, while wolves can weigh up to 100-150 pounds. Wolves have thicker fur and larger paws than coyotes, which help them navigate snowy terrain and hunt larger prey.

Another significant distinction between the two is their behavior. Coyotes are solitary hunters, although they occasionally hunt in packs, and they are opportunistic in their hunting habits, eating a variety of prey and scavenging for food when necessary. Conversely, wolves are social animals that live in packs and hunt cooperatively, often targeting bigger game like deer or elk.

Coyotes and wolves also differ in their ranges and habitats. Coyotes are found throughout North America, inhabiting deserts, forests, and even urban areas.

Their adaptability allows them to survive in a variety of habitats. In contrast, wolves have specific habitat requirements and are primarily found in wilderness areas such as forests, tundra, and grasslands.

Another notable difference between coyotes and wolves is their relationship with humans. Coyotes are considered pests and are hunted and trapped for their fur. They are also known to prey on livestock and pets, causing conflict with humans. Wolves, on the other hand, have a contentious relationship with humans.

In the 20th century, they were almost wiped out by hunting, but thankfully they are now protected by law in many areas. However, they are also blamed for preying on livestock, leading to conflicts between ranchers and conservationists.

Coyote image by Ben Mater via Unsplash

Coyote vs foxes

Coyotes and foxes are two of the most common wild canids in North America, and although they may appear similar, they have noticeable differences.

What does a coyote look like compared to a fox?

 The most visible differences between coyotes and foxes are their size and appearance. Coyotes are larger, weighing around 20-50 pounds, while foxes weigh approximately 5-20 pounds. Coyotes have longer legs and more prominent ears, enabling them to run faster and hear better. Additionally, coyotes have distinctive bushy tails, while foxes have longer, slimmer tails with a white tip.

Another significant difference is their behavior. Coyotes are solitary hunters that occasionally form packs, while foxes are solitary and tend to hunt alone.

Coyotes are opportunistic and eat a wide range of prey, including small mammals and larger animals like deer. Foxes hunt small mammals, such as rodents, rabbits, and birds.

Coyotes and foxes also have different ranges and habitats. Coyotes adapt to and survive in various habitats throughout North America, from deserts to forests to urban areas. In contrast, foxes prefer wooded areas or open fields, though some species adapt to urban environments.

Another significant difference is their relationship with humans. Coyotes are often considered pests and hunted for their fur. They may also prey on livestock and pets, leading to conflicts with humans. On the other hand, foxes are more admired for their beauty and intelligence and have a better relationship with humans overall.

Coyotes vs domestic dogs

Coyotes and domesticated dogs share some physical and behavioral similarities, but there are notable differences between the two species.

What does a coyote look like compared to a dog?

Coyotes have a leaner, more agile build than most domestic dogs. They possess longer legs designed for speed and agility, allowing them to run and jump efficiently. Coyotes also have a pointed snout, longer ears, and a bushy tail, which helps them maintain balance while running and hunting.

Their behavior is also significantly different. Coyotes are primarily nocturnal and solitary, while domesticated dogs are typically active during the day and enjoy socializing with their human owners. Coyotes are cautious and elusive around humans, while domesticated dogs are often friendly and affectionate.

Coyotes are adaptable to various environments, whereas domesticated dogs are bred for specific purposes and settings. Coyotes can thrive in multiple habitats, including forests, grasslands, deserts, and urban areas.

On the other hand, domestic dogs are often bred for specific roles, such as hunting, herding, or companionship.

Finally, coyotes and domesticated dogs communicate differently. While domesticated dogs bark, growl, and whine, coyotes communicate with distinct howls, barks, and yips. These vocalizations are often used to communicate with other coyotes and establish their territory.

While there are some similarities between coyotes and domesticated dogs, there are also significant differences. Understanding these differences can help us appreciate and coexist with the wildlife around us.

young coyote looking to eat
Photo by Joshua Wilking on Unsplash

How to keep your backyard safe from coyotes

  • The following steps can help you keep your backyard safe from coyotes.
    1. Secure your garbage cans.
  • To avoid attracting coyotes, ensure your garbage cans have tight-fitting lids that they cannot easily open. Consider using locking mechanisms or bungee cords to keep the lids securely in place.
    1. Don’t leave pet food outside.
  • Pet food left outside can attract coyotes and other wildlife. If you must feed your pets outdoors, promptly remove uneaten food and empty water bowls.
    1. Install motion-activated lights
  • Since coyotes are primarily nocturnal, installing motion-activated lights in your backyard can discourage them from entering your property. The sudden burst of light can startle them and deter them from approaching.
    1. Build a fence
  • Keeping a property fenced can effectively protect it and keep coyotes and other wild animals out of your backyard. Ensure the fence is at least six feet high and extends at least a foot underground to prevent coyotes from digging underneath.
    1. Keep your yard tidy.
  • Overgrown vegetation and cluttered areas can provide cover for coyotes and other animals to hide in, so it’s essential to keep your yard tidy and well-maintained to reduce hiding places.
    1. Keep an eye on your pets.
  • Coyotes are known to prey on small pets such as cats and small dogs. To ensure their safety, keep an eye on your pets when they are outside, and do not let them roam freely. This is especially true when coyotes prefer to hunt at dusk, dawn, and nighttime. Consider keeping them on a leash or in a secure outdoor enclosure.
  • With the increasing presence of coyotes in urban and suburban areas, it’s essential to take steps to keep your backyard safe. By securing your garbage cans, not leaving pet food outside, installing motion-activated lights, building a fence, keeping your yard tidy, and keeping an eye on your pets, you can help protect your home from unwanted wildlife.

Find out more information about our previous post here.

The impact of coyotes on domestic livestock and agriculture

  • Coyotes are a well-known predator in North America, and their impact on domestic livestock and agriculture has been a concern for many years.
  • Coyotes are opportunistic predators and prey on a variety of animals, including domestic livestock like sheep, goats, and calves. Coyotes target young, weak, or sick animals, making them easy prey. This predation can lead to substantial economic losses for farmers and ranchers.
  • Coyotes can also damage crops by feeding on fruits, vegetables, and other crops or digging up and consuming seeds and roots. They can also damage irrigation systems and other farm infrastructure.
  • Various methods can minimize the impact of coyotes on domestic livestock and agriculture. One of the most effective approaches is using livestock guardian animals (LGAs), such as dogs or llamas. These LGAs are bred and trained to protect livestock from predators. They can help deter coyotes from attacking and alert farmers to potential threats.
  • Non-lethal deterrents, such as lights, noise-makers, and fencing, can also effectively keep coyotes away from livestock and crops without harming them. In some cases, lethal control methods, such as trapping or shooting, may be required as a last resort to manage coyote populations. Still, these measures should be targeted and humanely to avoid unintended consequences. They should also be used in coordination with environmental and state laws.
  • In conclusion, coyotes can significantly impact domestic livestock and agriculture, leading to economic losses for farmers and ranchers. Addressing this impact requires a multi-faceted approach, including LGAs, non-lethal deterrents, and targeted lethal control measures. By working together, farmers, ranchers, and wildlife management agencies can find practical solutions to minimize the impact of coyotes on domestic livestock and agriculture. This is done while maintaining healthy coyote populations.
Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay

FAQS/ Questions about Coyotes

Can coyotes be domesticated?

Coyotes are wild animals and cannot be domesticated, making them unsuitable for captivity. Domestication attempts have failed, and coyotes require large territories to roam and exhibit their natural behaviors. It’s important to avoid coyote encounters and scare them away by making loud noises and appearing larger. Feeding or touching coyotes should be avoided, and keeping them as pets in most areas is illegal. Coyotes should be appreciated from a distance in their natural habitat.

In addition, it’s crucial to keep in mind state and local laws regarding coyote activity, including hunting and trapping regulations, to ensure that all actions related to coyotes are within legal limits.

What is the lifespan of a coyote?

In the wild, a coyote typically lives for 6-8 years. However, coyotes can live for up to 15 years or even more in captivity. The lifespan of coyotes is influenced by various factors such as food availability, predation, and diseases. These challenges can reduce their lifespan and affect their overall health. Coyotes living in areas with less human activity tend to have longer lifespans than those living in urban areas, where they are exposed to more risks. Coyotes generally have a shorter lifespan than wild canids, like wolves, which can live up to 12-15 years in the wild.

Do coyotes hunt in packs?

Although coyotes are usually solitary hunters, they can hunt in packs when necessary. While coyotes often hunt alone or in small groups, they will form larger packs to increase their chances of success when hunting larger prey such as deer or elk. The size of the pack can vary depending on the availability of prey and the size of the coyote population in the area. Coyote packs are usually smaller than wolf packs, with an average of 3-5 individuals. By working together, coyotes can coordinate their efforts and take down larger prey they cannot hunt alone. In addition, pack hunting can offer protection against potential predators like mountain lions or bears. Although coyotes are skilled hunters and can hunt alone, they are known to hunt in packs when it is advantageous.

Image by Jose Luis Palma from Pixabay