Coyote - Canis latrans

A coyote on a grassy hillside
Coyotes are active both day and night, but most active during evenings and mornings.

NPS photo / Kim Acker


There are several predators in the park, including bobcats, eagles, badgers, and cougars, but the coyotes are the most easily seen. Coyotes are small canines, 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.

Though they usually prey on small mammals and birds, coyotes are scavengers and often eat dead animals. They do not feed heavily on livestock or larger hooved mammals, like elk, deer, or bison unless the animal is already dead or dying.

A coyote looks around in the snow
Coyotes have excellent hearing and eyesight.

NPS Photo

A wide variety of habitats across the United States are home for the coyote and they are found throughout the park. At Wind Cave, coyotes are usually seen among prairie dog towns and patrolling hillsides near the highway. Coyotes are active throughout the day, but they are more easily seen early in the morning and around sunset. Each individual coyote or pack has a home territory that is used on a regular basis, but not actively defended except during breeding season and when the coyote pups are in their dens.

Coyote dens are 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 an infestation of parasites like fleas or lice. These moves are generally not far because the mother coyote carries each pup, one by one, to the new den. One of the longest recorded moves was over 5 miles.

Coyotes breed between March and April. The pups are born blind and helpless about two months later. They 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 are very vocal and communicate with each other by howling, yipping, and barking. Listen for coyotes howling at dusk year-round.

Last updated: June 23, 2020

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