Introduction to Coyotes
Historically, coyotes lived in open grasslands and prairies of the western United States and as far north as southwestern Canada.
Although many wildlife species, including the wolf, disappeared as people settled the land, coyotes found conditions favorable and flourished. Until the first half of the 1900s, coyotes lived mostly in the prairie region of the northern and western parts of Missouri. Responding to losses of livestock from farmers and ranchers, the Missouri legislature passed a bounty law on coyotes and wolves in 1825.
Bounties were paid with state funds until the end of 1968. Some counties continued to pay a small bounty for several more years.
Bounties, however, had little effect on the adaptable coyote. Starting in the 1950s, coyote populations increased dramatically and spread to the southern and eastern parts of Missouri. By the end of the 1970s, coyotes extended their range to all parts of Missouri, including the Bootheel.
Today coyotes can be found in North and Central America – from Alaska to central Mexico and from Newfoundland to Florida. Coyotes also are well populated throughout Missouri, including the outskirts of the major metropolitan areas of Kansas City, Springfield and St. Louis.
A bounty on coyotes provided financial opportunities for hunters and trappers but had little effect on coyote populations.
Persons living in urban or rural areas may see coyotes close to home. Many people welcome these valuable members of the wildlife community for the important role they play in reducing the rodent population.
Because of their close proximity to coyotes, many Missourians want to learn more about these “little prairie wolves,” as members of the Lewis and Clark expedition called them – either to enjoy watching them, hear them howl or to learn how to take preventive measures to protect their property.
The first step in resolving conflicts between people and wildlife is an understanding of the wildlife species involved. This booklet is designed to help readers understand coyote behavior. It also offers preventative methods and nonlethal solutions to coyote problems. Lethal methods, which are often the best short-term control options, also are included.
Life History of the Coyote
Coyotes are not large animals. Males weigh up to 35 pounds, and females weigh
an average of 5 to 6 pounds less. Coyotes weighing 40 pounds or more are rare.
Color varies with individual coyotes, but reddish gray is most common. Some animals, however, may be darker and others more red. Older animals tend to be darker and more reddish, and younger animals are more gray. Coyotes are mostly nocturnal, but they sometimes are active in the daylight hours, especially in cool, cloudy weather. During winter, they can be spotted in the early morning and evening.
Coyotes howl to let other family groups know where their territory lies.
In Missouri, coyotes are found in all types of habitat from the Ozark forests to the northern crop fields and from the southeast lowlands to the populated subdivisions of major metropolitan areas.
In spite of their varied habitat, coyotes are basically prairie animals. They prefer open pastures and fields with some brush and weeds where they can hunt for prey, such as mice, rabbits and other small mammals.
Even in the Ozarks, coyotes choose open fields, glades and trails over dense forest. Coyotes may travel the logging trails in the forests, but their main food source comes from the open fields and pastures.
The size of their home range varies from one coyote family to another. Home ranges are larger in late winter during the mating season, and smaller in the spring when food is plentiful and the mated pairs are raising pups. Three or four square miles is probably as large an area as most mated pairs cover. While feeding pups, coyotes in Missouri usually hunt no more than a mile from their den. This contrasts greatly with coyotes in the arid western states where mated coyotes may hunt more than six miles from their denning area.
Like dogs, wolves and other canines, coyotes mark their territories with urine and droppings. Howling is another way that family groups identify their territory.
Mated pairs defend these territories when they have pups. At other times, territories often overlap. Encounters between mated pairs and other coyotes for territories aren’t violent and deadly like those between larger canines, such as wolves.
Although primarily carnivores, coyotes are opportunists and will eat what is readily available. Mice, rats, ground squirrels, rabbits, carrion and a wide assortment of other mammals make up the bulk of their diet. Snakes and birds, as well as an occasional wild turkey or white-tailed deer fawn, also are preyed upon by coyotes.
During the summer and fall, coyotes are more omnivorous. Pups often eat a steady diet of grasshoppers in the late summer when they begin hunting their own food. Crickets, beetles and other insects are eaten by coyotes of all ages.
Coyotes also like fruits and berries, such as mulberries, blackberries, wild strawberries and wild cherries. A thicket of ripening wild plums or a persimmon tree may be visited by coyotes regularly. Many truck farmers know that coyotes also enjoy watermelons.
Coyotes are scavengers, too. In rural areas, coyotes eat table scraps, including vegetables, thrown out by farm families. In urban areas or around campgrounds, coyotes sometimes raid garbage cans for discarded scraps. Although coyotes do not cause a large problem to sweet corn growers, they sometimes pull down a stalk or two and nibble on the ears of corn.
Coyotes also feed on carrion. Following deer season, coyote droppings often are full of deer The male coyote is a good provider and does a large share of the hunting while the female stays closer to the pups. hair, indicating that coyotes have cleaned up the remains from field-dressed deer or eaten wounded deer not recovered by hunters. Coyotes sometimes feed on road-killed deer along rural highways. Coyotes seem to prefer the carrion of deer and hogs over other animals.
Although coyotes may kill sheep and sometimes small calves and feed on them later, they do not seem to prefer the carrion of these animals if they did not kill them. They may, however, roll in decaying carcasses of livestock and other animals, including other coyotes, then leave their urine and droppings nearby.
In Missouri, coyotes breed from mid February into the first few days of March. Male coyotes do not breed their first year, but some females do. Gestation is about 63 days. Most coyote pups in Missouri are born from mid April through the first week of May. Litter size varies from two to 11 or more.
Coyote pups, blind and helpless at birth, are covered with a wooly, brownish-gray fur. Their eyes open when they are about 10 days old. At about 3 weeks of age, the young come out of the den and by fall are out on their own.
Care of young
The male coyote is a good provider and does a large share of the hunting while the female stays closer to the pups.
Female coyotes prefer a dry, safe place to have their pups. A common den site is a bulldozed brush and tree pile. The female will crawl into the bulldozed pile and dig out a den under the root wad of a large tree.
Another popular den site is under the base of a large, standing tree that has an opening at ground level. Coyote pups sometimes are raised in hollow logs and under rock ledges. Other times, female coyotes may enlarge an abandoned badger or woodchuck burrow.
A female often prepares more than one den in the same area. If there is human disturbance or if the den becomes lice-infested or wet, she will move the pups to another location. Most coyote pups have been moved several times by the time they are old enough to leave the den on their own. If the pups are too small to follow their mother, she carries them one at a time by the nape of the neck to the new den site.
To keep watch over the area, the female may find an elevated place a hundred yards or more away from the den. There she will dig a bed in a grassy, weedy area.
In Missouri, coyote pups are weaned when they are about 6 weeks old. From this time on, they usually do not stay in a den. Instead they live in a brushy, weedy area. Coyotes do not use dens until the following spring when the female has a new litter. The rest of the year, they sleep in a protected place on top of the ground.
In the early stages of feeding the pups, the parents eat their fill of a kill and regurgitate their stomach contents at the den for the pups to eat. As the pups develop, the parents bring them pieces of meat that the pups must chew themselves. The male coyote is a good provider and does a large share of the hunting while the female stays closer to the pups.
As the summer advances, coyote pups require more and more food, and the parents sometimes are hard pressed to keep them fed. To supplement their diet, coyote pups begin to catch crickets, June bugs, grasshoppers, frogs and other small animals.
As the pups develop, they move over a larger area until they expand their territory from what was less than an acre in June to several acres by late August. During this period, a disturbance, such as mowing or planting, may cause the family to move to a safer place, which could be a mile or more away.
By late October, the pups begin to hunt for themselves and cover more ground. The litter may stay together as a loose family group as the pups begin to disperse in the winter. By spring the family unit usually is dissolved.
Effects on game and other wildlife
Coyotes prey upon mice and rats, thus helping to keep the rodent population in check. Their effect on game species is minimal.
Occasionally hunters think coyotes have an adverse impact on wild game. This is rarely the case in Missouri. Small game populations, such as rabbits and quail, can thrive in areas of high coyote populations if adequate food and cover are available. Coyotes are not serious wild turkey predators.
Coyotes sometimes kill white-tailed deer fawns, but not enough to have an impact on the deer population in Missouri. Researchers found that free-roving dogs have more impact on young deer than coyotes in many areas in Missouri.