Wildlife Portfolio of the Western National Parks
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THE COYOTE, sometimes known as "brush" or "prairie" wolf, has been called the original or native wild dog of western North America where it is now found from central Alaska to southern Mexico. This wandering canine was well known to certain primitive types of Indians long before the coming of the white man. This is clearly indicated by the permanent place that the coyote has been accorded in the animal folk lore and the traditions of the various tribes of Plains Indians. However, the Indians apparently did not accord the coyote an exalted place in their animal folklore, but rather seemingly regarded him as a sort of scapegoat.

A coyote resembles a small collie dog in general size, form, and coloration. Three types of coyote are usually recognized in the West. The smallest of these is the scrawny desert coyote which usually looks as though it never had a square meal. The short, coarse hair of a reddish cast which clothes the desert coyote adds to its unkempt appearance. Contrasted to this, the coyote of the high mountains is a large, robust animal with a dense coat of long, grayish fur. The mountain coyote frequently is called a "gray wolf" which is, however, a larger, stouter animal with heavier teeth and larger feet. The valley coyote is intermediate in size between the desert and mountain types, being nearer the latter in both size and color.

The mountain coyote is stronger and bolder than its lowland relatives which feed more largely on carrion, and at times captures deer and other large prey, especially during the winter when the ground is deeply covered with snow and food is scarce.

The weird voice of the coyote is to many people one of the most distinctive animal calls to be heard in our entire country. While coyotes usually bark most at or near sunrise or sunset, they are often heard at night and sometimes even at midday. Like domestic dogs, the coyote responds by howling when a steam whistle or other loud sound is produced at a certain pitch or key. It is thought by some that the sound vibrations affect the inner ear of the coyote so that he howls possibly to relieve the pain of the vibration. Frequently I have watched a pair of coyotes and found that they were able to so modulate their voices that the uninitiated person would swear that there were no less than a dozen coyotes barking. Close observation has shown that the usual "pack" of coyotes consists of merely one family—just a pair of adults with their grown offspring. Much of the western country would be drab, dry, and dusty indeed if it were not for the "singing" of the coyotes.

Coyotes often locate their dens in burrows which the mother digs in open sandy ground before the young are born. The number of coyote pups in a litter varies from 3 to 9, with an average of 6. One litter a season is the normal reproduction.


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Last Updated: 01-Jul-2010