Coyote - Life History info Socialization, breeding, development, habitat, Food


Social organization - There is a considerable amount of variability in
coyote social organizations. In many areas, most coyotes are solitary
outside of the breeding season. In other areas, such as Jackson Hole,
Wyoming, and Jasper, Alberta, groups of coyotes are frequently observed.
Coyote social organization is influenced by prey size. In populations
where the major prey items throughout the year are small rodents,
coyotes tend to be solitary. In populations where large animals are
available {e.g., elk (Cervus elaphus), and deer (Odocoileus spp.)},
large groups of coyotes form.

Breeding season - Courtship may begin as early as 2 to 3 months before
coyotes attempt to mate. The female is monoestrous, having one period
of heat per year usually between January and March . Estrus lasts
2 to 5 days. Some coyotes mate with the same individual from year to
year, but not necessarily for life. In the Sierra Nevada, coyotes
mate from February to May, with peak breeding time in April and May .
Yearling females usually breed later in the season than older females

Age at first breeding - Both males and females are capable of breeding
as yearlings. However, many coyotes do not breed until their second
year. Generally, about 60 to 90 percent of adult females and 0 to
70 percent of female yearlings produce litters. In years when food
is abundant, more females (especially yearlings) breed. In years when
rodent populations are high, as many as 75 percent of yearling females
may breed.

Gestation and litter size - Gestation lasts approximately 63 days. The
average litter size is 6, but may range from 3 to 15. Litter
size can be affected by population density and food availability.
Knowlton reported average litter sizes of 4.3 at high coyote
densities and 6.9 at low coyote densities. In years of high rodent
density, mean litter size is generally higher than in years of low
rodent densities.

Development of young - Coyote young are born with their eyes closed.
They are cared for by the mother and sometimes siblings from a previous
year. The father and other males often provide food for the mother and
the young. Pups emerge from the den in 2 or 3 weeks. They begin to eat
solid food at about 3 weeks of age and are weaned at about 5 to 7 weeks
of age.

Dispersal of juveniles - Juvenile coyotes usually disperse alone or
sometimes in groups at 6 to 9 months of age during October to February.
However, some juveniles do not disperse until their second year.
Juvenile coyotes may disperse up to 100 miles (160 km) from their den
. In Minnesota, Berg and Chesness reported mean dispersal
distances of 30 miles (48 km) that occurred at a mean rate of 7 miles
(11 km) per week . Juvenile dispersal distances averaged 17 to 19
miles (28-31 km) in Alberta , 4 miles (7 km) in Arkansas , and 3
to 4 miles (5-6 km) in California .

Activity and movements - Coyotes are active day and night, with peaks in
activity at sunrise or sunset. Generally, activity and movements such
as foraging are greatest at night. Andelt found that daytime
activity increased during the breeding season. In Arkansas, Gipson and
Sealander found that young were more active than adults during the

Life span - Coyotes in captivity may live as long as 18 years, but in
wild populations few coyotes live more than 6 to 8 years. The maximum
known age for a wild coyote is 14.5 years .

Coyotes occupy a broad range of habitats. Almost any habitat
that supports prey populations also supports coyotes; however, some
preferences have been noted (refer to PLANT COMMUNITIES slot).

Dens - Coyotes den in a wide variety of places, including brush-covered
slopes, steep banks, rock ledges, thickets, and hollow logs. Dens
previously used by other animals {e.g., American badgers (Taxidea
taxus)} are frequently used. Dens are usually about 1 foot (0.3 m)
in diameter and from 5 to 25 feet (1.5-7.5 m) long . They usually
have more than one entrance and many interconnecting tunnels. The same
den may be used from year to year. Den sharing occurs only rarely
. Movement of pups from one den to another is very common. The
reason is unknown, but disturbance and possibly infestation by parasites
may be factors. Most moves are over relatively short distances;
however, moves over 2.5 miles (4 km) are not uncommon [12].

Home range and territory - A single home range may be inhabited by a
family of two or more generations, a mated pair, or a single adult.
Home ranges vary from an average of 2 square miles (5 sq km) in Texas
to averages of 21 to 55 square miles (54-142 sq km) in Washington
. Males tend to have larger home ranges than females. In
Minnesota, male home ranges averaged 16 square miles (42 sq km), whereas
those of females averaged 4 square miles (10 sq km). The home ranges of
males overlapped considerably, but those of females did not . In
Arkansas, Gipson and Sealander reported that male coyote home
ranges were 8 to 16 square miles (21-42 sq km) and female home ranges
were 3 to 4 square miles (8-10 sq km).

In southeastern Colorado, the home range size of coyotes varied with
habitat, which was correlated with prey abundance. Coyotes in canyon
woodlands and in hills dominated by pinyon-juniper (Pinus-Juniperus
spp.) woodlands interspered with grassland and shrubland had the
smallest home ranges. Coyotes in pinyon-juniper-prairie had
intermediate-size home ranges, and coyotes in shortgrass prairie had the
largest home ranges. As the amount of pinyon-juniper increased, home
range size decreased, possibly because these areas had high small mammal
populations and provided cover for resting sites and dens. The
shortgrass prairie had the lowest relative abundance of small mammals in
the study area.

Group size and social behavior may also influence home range size.
Coyotes living in packs and defending ungulate carrion during winter may
have smaller home ranges than coyotes living in pairs or alone .
Typically, only pack members defend territories; pairs of coyotes and
solitary individuals do not.

Coyotes commonly hunt in open to semiopen areas . In
California coyotes used ecotones, fuelbreaks, roads, trails, and open
chaparral more than dense unbroken cover. In southern California where
chaparral is adjacent to unbroken areas, coyotes forage at night along
edges and return during the day to chaparral cover. The steep slopes
and heavy cover of most chaparral communities impede coyote movements
. In Georgia, the proportion of open area in coyote home ranges was
significantly (P less than 0.04) greater than that generally available in the
area, and the proportion of forest was significantly (P less than 0.04) less .

Coyotes use cover for daytime resting and den sites. In Georgia, areas
with "sufficient" cover were used more for daytime rest sites, and early
successional and open areas were used more for nocturnal foraging. In
summer, some coyotes used corn fields for cover during the day [59].
Urban coyotes in Seattle, Washington, foraged in residential areas, but
only in areas that were immediately adjacent to forest cover. Forested
areas provided the majority of cover, including denning sites .

Coyotes evolved in a plains environment and were historically most
numerous in western grasslands where large ungulate populations were
high. Coyotes flourished in the shortgrass-steppe, semiarid sagebrush
(Artemisia spp.)-grasslands, and deserts, and they ranged from deserts
and plains to alpine areas of adjacent mountains .

Today, range expansions indicate that coyotes can be successful in any
plant community from the tropics of Guatemala to the tundra of northern
Alaska . Although they occur in most plant communities throughout
their range, coyotes do show some preferences.
In the Intermountain
region, coyotes are closely associated with sagebrush communities.
Coyotes in eastern Nevada preferred black sagebrush (Artemisia nova)
flats to other habitats. These flats were areas of highest black-tailed
jackrabbit (Lepus californicus) densities . In the Sierra Nevada,
California, coyotes inhabit almost every plant community and
successional stage. However, they prefer grass-forb and shrub-conifer
seedling-conifer sapling communities .

Coyotes are opportunistic feeders and eat a variety of food .
About 90 percent of their diet consists of animal matter; however, they
also eat vegetable matter. Some common prey items include deer, elk,
sheep (Ovis spp.), rabbits and hares (Leporidae), various rodents
(Rodentia), ground-nesting birds, amphibians, lizards, snails, fish,
crustaceans, and insects. During winter, much of the diet is made up of
rabbits, hares, and the carrion of large ungulates. Small mammals,
especially voles and mice (Muridae), are important food items during
spring, summer, and fall . Various berries are also eaten .

An extensive study of coyote food habits conducted in 17 western states
showed that major diet items were lagomorphs (33%), carrion (25%),
rodents (18%), and domestic livestock (13.5%). Coyote diets in
sagebrush habitat of northeastern Utah and south-central Idaho consisted
of about 75 percent black-tailed jackrabbits year-round . In
northeastern California, meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) occurred
in about half of all coyote scats analyzed. Other important diet items
were mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) and cattle, probably eaten as
carrion. Mule deer were also important in coyote diets in two
areas of southern Utah. In central Wyoming, mule deer, pronghorn
(Antilocarpa americana), white-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus townsendii),
and desert cottontails (Sylvilagus audubonii) were present in 63 percent
of coyote scats. On Arizona cattle ranges, where the habitat was
primarily open grasslands, oak (Quercus spp.), juniper, and ponderosa
pine (Pinus ponderosa), coyote diets contained high percentages of plant
material. Juniper berries were particularly important, followed by
prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) fruit.

Mountain lions (Felis concolor) sometimes kill and eat coyotes .
Other predators of coyotes include humans, gray wolves, black bears
(Ursus americanus), and grizzly bears (Ursus arctos). Golden eagles
(Aquila chrysaetos) attack young coyotes.

Coyotes are the principal predator of domestic sheep in the West.
Predation on sheep often occurs in the summer . In 16 studies
reviewed by Sterner and Shumake , coyotes were responsible for 82
percent of all sheep losses due to predators. However, only a few
flocks typically showed sizeable losses . Coyote predation is a
minor cause of most livestock losses. Most of the livestock consumed,
except sheep, is carrion .

Methods of coyote control have been described in the literature
The impact of predator control on coyote population
densities, behavior, and ecology are not well known. Coyote populations
are able to maintain themselves under considerable human-induced
mortality. Their means of survival include behavioral adaptations and
biological compensatory mechanisms such as increased rates of
reproduction, survival, and immigration. In most areas, coyote numbers
likely are controlled by competition for food and by social stress,
diseases, and parasites. There is little evidence to support the
notion that coyote predation is a primary limiting factor on populations
of large ungulates

Coyote population control efforts may affect the social organization and
activity patterns of coyotes. In areas where population control is not
practiced, most coyotes exist in relatively "large" groups, whereas
coyotes in areas where populations are controlled generally exist in
"smaller" groups. Coyotes have been reported as more active during the
day in uncontrolled than in population-controlled areas . Roy
and Dorrance reported that coyotes avoided open areas near roads
during daylight hours in areas where they were hunted.

Coyotes often aid in the dispersal of seeds. Seeds of oneseed juniper
(Juniperus monosperma) and Indian manzanita (Arctostaphylos mewukka)
have been found in coyote scats .

Coyotes are inflicted with a wide variety of parasites and diseases
which are described by Gier and others .

brush wolf
prairie wolf
American jackal

The currently accepted scientific name for the coyote is Canis latrans
Say. It is in the family Canidae. Nineteen subspecies are currently
recognized, however; only 16 subspecies occur in Mexico, the United
States, and Canada :

C. latrans cagottis (Hamilton-Smith) (Mexican coyote)
C. latrans clepticus Elliot (San Pedro Martir coyote)
C. latrans frustror Woodhouse (southeastern coyote)
C. latrans impavidus Allen (Durango coyote)
C. latrans incolatus Hall (northern coyote)
C. latrans jamesi Townsend (Tiburon Island coyote)
C. latrans latrans (plains coyote)
C. latrans lestes Merriam (mountain coyote)
C. latrans mearnsi Merriam (Mearns coyote)
C. latrans microdon Merriam (Lower Rio Grande coyote)
C. latrans ochropus Eschscholtz (California valley coyote)
C. latrans peninsulae Merriam (peninsula coyote)
C. latrans texesis Bailey (Texas plains coyote)
C. latrans thamnos Jackson (northeastern coyote)
C. latrans umpquesis Jackson (northwest coast coyote)
C. latrans vigilis Merriam (Colima coyote)

Fertile hybrids have been produced by matings of coyotes with feral dogs
(C. familiaris), red wolves (C. rufus), gray wolves (C. lupus), and red
foxes (Vulpes vulpes) . Coyote-dog hybrids exhibit decreased
fecundity .

(source US Forest Service)