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What Do Coyotes Eat?

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Coyotes are of the genus Canis (Canis Latrans) so are a species of wild dog, sized between foxes and wolves. They are related to dogs, foxes, wolves, dingoes and hyenas. They are also known as prairie wolves or American Jackals and look like dogs with narrow, foxy faces, thick brownish fir and a bushy tail. Generally, a wolf is about twice to two and a half times the size of an adult coyote. Adult males are about 90 cm in length (excluding the tail) and about 53 cm tall at the shoulder, weighing about 14 kg. They live in pairs, with both parents caring for their offspring, often occupying burrows made by other animals, although they are capable of digging their own, or in dens amongst rocks or tree roots.

Differences between a coyote and a wolfShown above are the differences between a coyote and a wolf.

They can travel a great distance

Their ranges can extend for nearly 20 km from the den; they are mostly nocturnal but may be seen during the day and they tend to avoid humans. Occasionally, they will travel or live in larger, related groups of about six members of varying ages, but the groups are not stable in the same way that wolf packs are. In this they resemble dingos.

A dog, a coyote and a wolf's front foot printComparison between a dog, a coyote and a wolf’s front foot print.

You can find then all over North America

Over the centuries, the coyote featured in many Native American legends, mostly emphasizing the volatility and cleverness of the animal. During the 20th Century, elimination of the coyote through North America was attempted, with millions killed, and in many places in North America there is still a bounty offered for coyotes. However, coyotes are adaptable animals and their range extends all the way down the North American continent from Alaska to Panama in Central America. Although they are still hunted extensively, they have actually extended their range into the suburban areas of some cities. Their spread was assisted partly by the hunters, who reduced competition and predator species, and by deforestation which means that larger areas resemble the plains in which the coyote is at home. Adaptability over a wide range of environments has helped coyotes survive the loss of their own natural habitat due to human activity.

An adult wolf (back) and an adult coyote (front)An adult wolf can easily be twice the size of an adult coyote.

Their diet

Coyotes are both carnivores and scavengers, although they prefer fresh meat. They are naturally omnivorous, preying on birds, reptiles and animals, supplemented by fruit and vegetables seasonally when game is scarce. They have a keen sense of hearing and smell and are able to track and stalk prey, particularly small animals such as prairie dogs, mice and squirrels. They are capable of working in a pack to bring down much larger animals, such as deer, and are able to use their skills as runners (up to 40 miles per hour) in doing that. They more commonly work in pairs, though. They are also good swimmers, so rivers are generally no obstacle to them while traveling. They occasionally hunt during the day but are more often nocturnal. They can be a threat to humans, especially small children, and a nuisance to farmers, as they threaten livestock, although their consumption of other animals such as rats and snakes can be beneficial. They are also occasionally a nuisance around rubbish tips and can threaten domestic animals.

Predators of coyotes

Besides humans, wolves are coyote’s greatest predators. In 1995, the gray wolf was reintroduced to the Yellowstone National Park, resulting in a large decrease in the coyote population of the park. Bears and cougars are other natural predators. Coyotes live naturally for about ten years and up to 18 in captivity. Coyotes will interbreed with domestic dogs (coydogs) which are actually more dangerous to livestock than pure coyotes, as they combine the coyote’s aggression with the dog’s lack of fear of humans. Coydogs are able to breed year-round, unlike the single litters of coyotes. Occasionally, coyotes and wolves will interbreed (coywolves), but that is less common as wolves are generally hostile to coyotes.

More on coyotes: Facts about coyotes.