If you have had a pet snatched by a coyote you may not feel positively toward this species. However, the thrust of this web page is to present the coyote in its most favourable light, with respect and admiration for an animal that, despite man’s best efforts to the contrary, is thriving.
How has this happened? A major factor in the coyote’s success is the fact that humans, through hunting and altering the landscape, have been effective in reducing the wolf, bear and cougar populations. With reduced numbers of their natural predators and the effects of climate warming, coyotes have been able to significantly expand their range.
Whereas two hundred years ago coyotes inhabited mainly the prairies and arid areas of the Midwest, today they can be found from Alaska to Central America and from the Pacific to the Atlantic Oceans.
In North America there are 19 subspecies of coyote. Only two of these subspecies reside in British Columbia; they are: Canis latrans incolatus in the north and Canis latrans lestes in the south, where we live. Interestingly, the map below suggests that a species of coyote resides on Vancouver Island but this is not correct; there are no coyotes on Vancouver Island, yet!
We will refer to the coyotes on the Sunshine Coast as Canis latrans, a member of the dog family (Canidae) closely related to the wolf, fox and dog. Smaller and slimmer than the wolf, our coyote stands about 20 to 24 inches at the shoulder and anywhere from 3.5 to 5.0 ft in length which includes 12 to 16 inches of bushy drooping tail. Coyotes weigh between 35 and 50 lbs. and the females are generally four fifths the size of the male.
The coyote’s coat has an outer layer of long, coarse guard hairs in shades of greyish brown or yellowish brown and a short insulating light-coloured undercoat. Typically, the belly and chest are a lighter buff colour and the forelegs and side of the head have a reddish brown tinge. A slender muzzle ends in a black nose and a bushy tail ends in a black tip. Their ears are prominent, triangular and erect. Their yellow-gold eyes are slightly slanted and have round black pupils that give them an intense, cunning look.
Coyotes form highly social, related family units. Family members share in the hunting, pup rearing and territory protection duties.
Their den is basically a burrow with a tunnel leading to a nesting area and may be a renovation on a den previously occupied by a skunk, raccoon or fox. Coyotes appear to prefer den locations that have rocks, or hollow trees, are on a slope or near a water source and have brush or grass concealment. These dens are used only to birth and nurse pups and are not year round residences.
Coyotes appear to be monogamous and both male and female fully participate in raising the young. Almost always, only the alpha male and female mate. Mating takes place in January or February and 60-63 days later the pups are born. Litter sizes depend on the food supply; 4 to 7 pups are common and litters of 12 to 19 have been recorded.
The pups are born blind, opening their eyes about 10 days after birth and begin to venture out of the den after a month. The parents are protective and devoted and are key in teaching their pups the necessary hunting and life skills. If one parent is killed the other will continue raising the pups. The male brings food to the mouth of the den for the first few weeks. After weaning, at one month, both parents provide regurgitated food.
Young males will leave their parents within 9 months, while females typically stay with their parents, forming the basis of a pack. The juvenile mortality rate is very high and it appears that often only 20% of the pups survive to adulthood.
Estimates of the life span of the coyote vary. While many sources cite life spans of 6 to 8 years there are other sources suggesting that most coyotes don’t make it past 3 years in the wild. Interestingly a coyote's life span doubles in captivity.
Hunting and Feeding
The coyote excels as a hunter. This skill is supported by its highly developed sense of smell, and sensitive hearing. Although their vision is not as keen as humans’ during the day, a coyote’s eyes have many more rod receptors than human eyes which allow it to see in the dark; they have night-vision. What you may not know about coyotes is that they are fast on their feet. They can tiptoe and pounce if pursuing a grasshopper and it can achieve the 40 km/h speed of a greyhound if chasing a deer.
Coyotes are attracted to human settlements because of the plentiful food supply. Although the bulk of their diet is usually small rodents, coyotes are not picky eaters. In populated areas the presence of coyotes may mean that trash cans are attacked but it will also means that the rodent population will seriously decline. Coyotes are omnivores eating vegetables and fruits, especially berries. They are also one of the few animals that will flip a porcupine over, grab it by the throat, kill it and eat it. Coyotes base their hunting approach on the size of the prey, co-operating in small packs when the prey is larger.
It is impossible not to be impressed with the coyote’s resourcefulness. In those areas of Canada where the prairie dog (ground squirrel or gopher) is plentiful, the coyote has formed a partnership with the badger. Although badgers don’t reside on the Sunshine Coast this example illustrates the strategy and the strength of this animal partnership. The prairie dog will either burrow (tunnelling) or run. If the prairie dog decides to try to escape by tunnelling, the badger digs it out and if the prairie dog decides to run and use any of its escape holes, the coyote runs it down. It is fascinating to see a coyote trotting across grasslands with a badger waddling behind. This partnership is said to result in a 30% higher efficiency for both hunters.
The coyote is a very vocal animal and is credited with being the most vocal wild mammal in North America. Researchers have identified 11 different vocalizations including the huff, woof, bark, bark-howl, lone howl, group yip-howl, whine, group howl, greeting song, and yelp.
Surprisingly, although most of us associate the group howl with the celebration of a kill, this is not the case as coyotes would not want to advertise or invite other predators to share their bounty. Rather the howl is used to provide information about location, to bring the pack back together and to warn other packs that this area is taken. The coyote uses short barks to warn of danger. Many coyotes will yip to welcome a member back into the pack. Other vocalizations include growls when establishing dominance, whining and whimpering when males and females are establishing bonds and high-pitched barks to summon puppies. In the video below, group yip-howls are produced by a mated and territorial pair of “alpha” coyotes, with the male howling while the female intersperses her yips, barks, and short howls.” (Why does this sound vaguely familiar?)
To further support the idea that coyotes will eat anything they can chew, here is a photo of a coyote up a tree eating apples.
Endangered or Invasive Species
Coyotes, with a history of expanding their range, are certainly not endangered but are they invasive?
Man has often characterized the coyote as “wily” however, one of the major reasons that coyotes are not on the endangered list is that coyotes use their intelligence in an opportunistic and adaptive way.
How do “wily”, “opportunistic”, “resourceful” and “adaptive” translate into coyote behavior? Unlike wolves, coyotes have adapted to living close to humans and inhabiting densely populated areas. There is now thought to be no large North American city that does not have a population of coyotes.The Lower Mainland is home to an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 urban coyotes, which moved into the area in the 1980s.
Coyotes can adapt to all sorts of conditions. Although coyotes are usually active in the daytime, when they inhabit cities and wish to avoid humans, they become nocturnal or crepuscular (active at sunrise and sunset). Many humans have no idea they have a coyote living under their porch.
Are Coyotes an invasive species? The consensus is that coyotes are simply using their natural strengths and in doing so have expanded their range. Greater understanding is tempering attitudes toward this species and factual information has helped the coyotes gain in appreciation and respect.
Coyote Behaviour That Might Cause Harm to Humans
An excellent resource available on this subject is provided in the following, quoted from WildSafeBC:
“Human-coyote conflicts can occur when they predate on young or small livestock or attack people’s pets. Free-ranging pets are at risk of coyote predation. While human attacks are rare, they can occur especially if coyotes become comfortable around humans and have received a food reward either through direct or indirect feeding. There are currently no reports of coyotes with rabies in BC."
On average, the Conservation Officer Service receives approximately 1,100 reports regarding coyotes every year. The majority are in urban areas such as the Lower Mainland and Central Okanagan. Coyote reports can increase slightly during coyote breeding season which begins in February.
All coyote encounters that are aggressive in nature or show a lack of fear of people and pets should be reported to the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277. These reports can be viewed on WildSafeBC’s Wildlife Alert Reporting Program”
On the Sunshine Coast, coyotes rarely pose a threat to humans. People can help prevent coyotes from coming too close to their homes by securing garbage, refraining from feeding pets outdoors, keeping birdseed off the ground, and eliminating coyote-accessible water sources.
The following advice from the Government of BC may be useful if you encounter a coyote while out and about:
Scare away approaching predators: Do not run away. Use stones, sticks, rocks, loud noises, waving arms and aggressive yelling while maintaining eye contact.
Keep dogs on leash and under control at all times
Create and maintain space. Give wildlife lots of room to avoid you, never crowd around them.
Do not stop to take pictures.
Never feed wildlife. Avoid food-conditioning wolves or coyotes by securing all food and garbage.
Prevent conflicts. Give all wild animals distance, not food. Avoid hiking alone. Keep children close.
Be predator aware. Understand and watch for wildlife warning signs.
Be informed and inform others of current information.
Be prepared for an encounter. Carry deterrents such as noise makers, sticks, or bear spray, and know how to use them.
Respect all wildlife and their right to be here.
Urban Coyote Research Project - how to avoid conflicts
Urban Coyote Research Project - access excellent reports/studies that make great reading.
Project Coyote - In depth look at coyotes
Project Coyote - more from this interesting website
“The coyote, our unique Song Dog who has existed in North America since the Pleistocene, is the most persecuted native carnivore in North America. Estimates are that half a million coyotes are slaughtered every year in the US. But knowledge and understanding of coyotes and other native carnivores is helping to promote coexistence."
BCSPCA Speaking for Animals
Government of BC - Staying Safe Around Coyotes