Coyote - Canis latrans

There are several predators in the Park, including bobcats, eagles, badgers, and cougars, but the coyotes are the most easily seen.

Most research has shown that coyotes usually feed on small mammals and birds. They do not feed heavily on livestock or larger ungulates, like elk, deer, or bison unless the animal is already dead or dying.

Little is known about the predatory behavior of wild coyotes, but a sudden hop or pounce is most often used for capturing small animals, like shrew or mice, where group effort may be used in the prairie dog towns. Coyotes depend on various senses to locate their prey, with sight, hearing, and smell being most important-usually in that order.

Coyotes are small mammals, about the size of a medium-sized dog. They vary widely in coloration, ranging from an almost pure gray to a red-brown. The fur is generally much thicker in winter-giving the animal a heavier appearance, with the summer coat being much shorter and lighter.

Coyote pup
Coyote pup

NPS Photo by D.A. Buehler

A wide variety of habitats all across the United States can be called home for the coyote. They are found in both the grasslands and pine forest here in the Park. Each individual coyote or coyote pack has a home territory that is used on a regular basis, but not actively defended except during mating periods and when the coyote pups are in their dens.

The dens of coyotes can also be found in a variety of places, including rocky ledges, brushy slopes, hollow logs, even small caves. Sometimes the shelters of other small animals are used. They may even use the same den from year to year. However, it is not uncommon for coyotes to move to another den early in the spring while their pups are quite young. The reason for these moves is not really understood, but it may have something to do with disturbances near the original den or possibly an infestation of parasites like fleas or lice. These moves are generally not far because the mother coyote has to carry each pup, one by one, to the new den. One of the longest recorded moves was 8 kilometers (5.4 miles).

Coyotes mate only once a year, between March and April. The pups are born blind and helpless about two months later. The young are cared for by the mother and other helpers, usually siblings from a previous year. The adult males of the pack help rear the young by bringing food to the mother and later, after weaning, to the pups themselves. The pups emerge form the den in about three weeks, playful and ready to learn from their parents how to fend for themselves. This learning relationship often lasts for about a year. Coyotes may be active throughout the day, but they are more easily seen early in the morning and around sunset.

Last updated: January 18, 2018

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