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Coyotes by Jerry Dupree

Coyotes are a very interesting animal and they inhabit 49 states. Their Latin name is Canis Latrans, which means singing dog. Their yips and howls can be heard at any time and is probably how they locate each other. They were only living west of the Mississippi River until bridges were built. They are even found in New York City. They are very adaptable and can live in the driest and hottest desert, and now are living in Alaska as well. The average coyote weighs about 28 pounds, although large males in southern California can weigh as much as 40 pounds. The world record coyote was taken in Caddo County, Oklahoma, and weighed 74 pounds.

Coyotes will eat about anything a dog will eat, which is just about everything. They are opportunists and will often specialize with a preference for fruits, avocados, cantaloups, rodents, birds, carrion, eggs, or insects. They are not territorial and have been captured and tagged, and found as far as a hundred miles away. Each year they begin to pair up in January and hunt together and build a den. They mate in March and have a gestation period about 63 days, which is similar to a dog. Their litter size is dependent on food supply. In lean years they have fewer pups. Litter sizes usually vary from three to as many as 13 pups. The pups are born in May and the male will stay and hunt for the family but does not enter the den. He leaves food outside. Soon after the pups are weaned the male will leave and find another mate for the next season. My wife and I were out in the desert and followed a trail with tiny footprints. It ended at a den with baby coyotes in it. They looked about four to five weeks old.

Coyotes feet are small compared to a dog of the same size. They will hunt using all of their senses: they listen, smell, or see their prey and will circle for a higher or better look or for favorable wind conditions. They are not exclusively nocturnal and can be seen any time of day or night, however most frequently at dusk or sunrise. Coyotes can be solitary or live and hunt as a pack. I have followed their tracks in a straight line on dirt roads. They are looking down the road to see what might cross it and then intercept what may be a juicy jack rabbit dinner.

In areas where people have attempted to eliminate coyotes by hunting, locating dens and killing them, poison, trapping, or other means, the natural food supply increases, thereby drawing coyotes from surrounding areas. The distribution provides a wide gene pool and there is a large variety of color, size, and behaviors. Most coyotes are brown, gray, or yellow. Some have reddish faces and legs similar to a fox. I recently observed a red coyote with a pattern similar to a fox.

Coyotes are very clean and most are free of ticks and fleas. I have seen very few unhealthy ones. There has only been one confirmed case of rabies among coyotes in California. There have been very few cases of coyote attacks against humans, which are usually small children. Any predatory animal is afraid of humans. If they become injured, they can’t hunt and are no longer competitive in the food chain. The only human fatality on record was a woman in Canada. I don’t know the specifics of how the attack occurred, or what perpetrated it. The woman may have tripped and fallen while trying to escape. Coyotes do and will catch cats and small dogs. They have actually attacked small dogs while on leashes. They avoid humans, especially if you yell at them, pick up a rock or stick, or run towards them rather than running away.

Coyote populations have increased with the eradication of wolves, which were its only competitor. Some coyotes will walk across a sheep pasture and not be interested in them. Some will catch and kill one and return several times to feed on its carcass. There are other coyotes that will kill several sheep and not eat any of them. Coyotes are present in human populations. People have encroached into their domain and humans bring food and leave tasty treats for them. We are not alone. Coyotes will watch cattle, sheep, or other animals giving birth. Their target is the placenta.

There are coyotes that have been trapped and lost one or more legs and have healed and survived. I have photographs of a coyote with one eye. The more I learn about wildlife that live in the desert, the more I become interested.                   ~ Jerry