Crafty Coyotes Continue To Thrive

By M.J. Smith
BULLHEAD CITY, NV–Cunning enough to have earned a place in American Indian folklore–credited with nearly blinding Buffalo, stocking the rivers with salmon and teaching men to hunt–the Coyote is still one of nature’s craftiest animals.

“Coyotes are one of the few animals who have managed to thrive alongside human development,” retired biologist Paul Morris said. “They are so very adaptable that their range has increased over the years, unlike many carnivores who have dwindled thanks to people.”

One of the main reasons the Coyote is able too survive in hot and cold climates, in rural, suburban and wild areas, is its varied diet, Arizona Game and Fish Department spokesman Zen Mocarski said.

“Coyotes are among the most adaptable animals in the wild,” he said. “Their diet consists of just about anything they can catch. They do, however, prefer smaller mammals such as jackrabbits, cottontails and rodents. They will eat carrion and are capable of bringing down larger prey like deer and pronghorn if they hunt in numbers.”

Coyotes have adapted their hunting technique to use their vocalizations to their advantage, Morris said.

“One Coyote will often chase prey toward the others using short, high pierced yips,” he said. “The barking often makes it sound like the prey is being pursued by a dozen Coyotes when in reality it’s just one or two and the others are waiting in silence to make their move. The location of the barking can also be confusing to the prey, forcing them to run in circles.”

When hunting smaller prey, Coyotes typically employ a stalk and pounce approach, Mocarski said. “They are also capable of running down prey,” he said. “Their endurance can compensate for animals of nearly equal speeds, such as the jackrabbit. They are among the best runners in the canine world. They can run for distance at 25 to 30 mph, can reach up to 40 mph for short distances and leap 14 ft.”

Coyotes can be active any time of the day but prefer to hunt at night and near dusk. Along with their diet of tasty, meaty morsels, Coyotes have been known to eat various vegetation, Mocarski said.

“They will sometimes eat vegetation and fruit but they are more aptly suited to meat,” he said. “People will argue that they are omnivores but I believe they should be classified as carnivores, meat eaters, because when given the choice between a cottontail and an apple, Coyotes will pick meat every time.”

A very vocal animal, Coyotes use their barks, yips, howls and huffs for more than just hunting, Morris said. “Coyotes are a vocal communicator,” he said. “They tease and taunt each other with their yips, almost like puppies. They use howls to deter other males from encroaching on their territory or to let another member of their pack know where they are. They have a very complicated communication system that we are far from completely understanding.”

Though synonymous with the desert, the Coyote has not been relegated to the southwest, Mocarski said. “The evening howling and barks of the Coyote are associated with the West, although they are found across the United States, into Canada and south into Mexico,” he said. “They are also known as the Prairie Wolf.”

Coyotes mate in February and April after a female has chosen her partner. Several males may court a single female but she will eventually pick one as a mate. They can stay together for years and possibly life. After a two-month gestation period, the female will give birth to 2-12 young, with an average of six per litter. The young will open their eyes and emerge from the den in about two weeks. The den is generally a modified burrow made by another animal, such as a badger, that is widened by the female.

While the male will help support the young by providing their first meals, regurgitated food, the female will not allow him to enter the den completely, Morris said. Coyote mothers are very protective of their young. She will fight viciously to protect her pups.

Unattached adults in the pack also help take care of the young, in hopes of protecting the small bundles of fur from predators, Morris said.

“Coyote pups have a very high mortality rate,” he said. “Only about 5 to 20 percent survive their first year. The primary predator of the adult Coyote is the Mountain Lion but the young fall prey to a number of predators including foxes, bobcats, owls, eagles and hawks.

The size of Coyote packs will vary depending on food supply, Mocarski said. “When food is plentiful, more Coyotes may be found together. When food is scarce, they will become more solitary in their behavior.

A secretive animal, Coyotes 100 years ago were rarely seen, but with the influx of development into their territories, the cunning creatures have learned to survive in close proximity to people, Morris said.

“Coyotes only become a problem when people are not responsible,” he said. “If they don’t feed them, intentionally or unintentionally by leaving small pets outside or their garbage cans uncovered, Coyotes will avoid human contact.”

“They are sometimes drawn into a residential setting by people feeding them,” Mocarski said. “This is not a wise practice. Coyotes are not house pets and should not be treated as such. Though attacks on humans are rare, seen much less often than domestic dog bites, lost pets can become a problem.”

“Coyotes love nothing more than kitty cats,” Morris said. “They will also take small dogs when the situation is right.”

Coyotes breeding with captive dogs is another problem around the country, he said. The offspring are called coydogs and they don’t fit in either domestic dog or wildlife categories, Morris said. “If picked up by animal control they will be euthanized.”

Bullhead City Animal Control sees an occasion questionable species but unless the parentage is known to include a Coyote the pups are given a chance at adoption, senior animal control officer Joann Wolff said.

“Arizona does not recognize the rabies vaccine we have for canines for wildlife, so anything we are sure is wild-bred has to be euthanized,” she said. “Without proof, we will give them a chance to be adopted, as long as they are well behaved and uninjured.” –Mohave Valley News