Wildlife Species Guide
Wildlife Species Guide | Furbearers Guide | Habitat
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Importance| Listen to the Coyote Howl
The coyote's name is derived from the Aztec
word "coyotl". It is a member of the dog family (canids)
which includes wolves, dogs and foxes, and resembles a small
German Shepherd. Adults coyotes weigh an average of 20 to
35 pounds, with males being about 4 pounds heavier than
females. Coyotes weighing over 50 pounds are more common
in the northern and northeastern portions of their range than
elsewhere. An adult coyote is four to five feet long from the
tip of its nose to the tip of its tail.
In Nebraska, coyote pelts show a great variety of color and
texture. Eastern Nebraska coyotes generally have a coarse
coat that is brownish gray to buff in color, while coyotes from
the Sandhills and Panhandle are much lighter gray with dense,
Coyote tracks are more elongated than dog tracks and are
about one and a half times as long as they are wide. Coyotes have
bushy black-tipped tails, broad, pointed, erect ears and yellow
eyes. They have relatively large brains, and exceptional
senses of smell, sight and hearing.
Although coyotes avoid wolves and dogs under normal conditions,
they occasionally mate with them and create hybrid
offspring that are usually larger than a typical coyote. This
usually happens where wolf densities are low or on the edge
of the coyote's range.
Distribution and abundance
During the early 1800's, coyotes were limited to the Great Plains
and western regions of North America. Since then, they have expanded
their range north and east. This is primarily the result of the eradication
of wolves by humans and the coyote's ability to adapt to
various habitats, including living very close to human populations.
Coyotes in New England have hybridized with gray wolves and are generally
larger than western coyotes. Range expansion in the southeastern United
States has been aided by translocation for sport hunting.
Coyotes are generally more abundant in the Southwest and
Midwest than in other regions of North America In Nebraska, coyotes
are more abundant in western Nebraska and the Sandhills, regions where
ranching predominates over crop farming.
Habitat and home
Coyotes are extremely adaptable and live in a wide variety of vegetative
types, from grassland to northern boreal forest. Almost any area that
supports good populations of small prey will support coyotes.
As prey abundance increases, coyote abundance generally increases.
Coyotes require a minimum of shelter during most of the
year. They usually simply curl up in a concealed, protected
spot, though they do use dens for whelping and rearing pups.
A coyote seldom digs its own den, instead, it uses natural
cavities or modifies abandoned woodchuck or badger dens.
The female coyote usually selects several den sites in concealed
locations and moves her litter if she is disturbed in one
The coyote is perhaps the most vocal mammal in
Nebraska. Its howling and yipping serves to communicate
with family members and to notify neighboring coyotes of its
presence in the area. Numerous displays and postures are
used to show antagonism, dominance and greetings.
Coyote densities have been reported as high as five animals
per square mile in the southwestem United States, but are
more likely to be one to two per square mile in Nebraska.
Both parents help care for young and may mate for life.
Home ranges are usually occupied by mated pairs although
the male may move more extensively than the female.
Coyotes are known to form packs consisting of the adult pair
and young from more than one generation, although this seldom
occurs in Nebraska. The size of the coyote's range
depends on population density and varies between eight and
12 square miles. Where coyotes are numerous, their home ranges
are small. A mated pair defends its home range from adjacent
pairs but is somewhat tolerant of unmated transient
coyotes that pass through the range. Unmated transient
coyotes move great distances and comprise up to 20 percent
of the total coyote population. A coyote marks his territory
with scent by depositing droppings and urine on the perimeter
of the area.
Coyotes may be active and observed throughout the day,
but are most active at dusk and dawn. The daytime activity increases
during breeding and pup rearing. Coyotes hunt in
areas where small prey are likely to occur. They rely on sight,
smell and sound to locate prey. Rabbits are typically flushed
from cover and chased down and mice are usually caught by
the coyote pouncing upon them with its front feet.
Coyotes are opportunistic carnivores and take advantage of seasonal
changes in the abundance of food items.
Rabbits, deer fawns, various plants and assorted birds and invertebrates
are important summer food. Their winter diet emphasizes larger prey,
such as deer (prey or carrion), livestock carrion, rabbits and hares.
Occasionally, an individual coyote learns that sheep, lambs and calves
are easy prey.
Coyotes reproduce once a year. Pairs are formed and breeding occurs
in January-February. Coyotes are capable of breeding at one year of
age but do so infrequently. Most are two years old when they breed for
the first time. The percentage of females that breed is dependent on food
availability and coyote density. Pups are born nine weeks
after breeding occurs. The litter size depends on the age of the
mother and the amount of available prey in the area. A scarcity
of prey results in fewer females breeding and producing
smaller litters. There are usually four to seven pups in a litter
under average conditions. The pups join parents on hunting
trips when they reach eight to 10 weeks of age and they begin
to disperse in the fall, but some pups may not leave the family
group for up to two years. When a pup leaves the family
group it usually relocates within five to 10 miles, but records
show some have traveled in excess of 300 miles.
As many as 50 to 70 percent of all juvenile coyotes die before they
reach adulthood. Those that become adults typically live three to
five years, and 30 to 50 percent of the adult population dies each year.
Under most conditions, human-related causes, including hunting, trapping
and vehicle collisions are responsible for most coyote mortality.
Coyotes compensate for that heavy harvest by breeding at younger
ages and having larger litters. More one-year-old females
breed during periods of heavy harvest and their litter size can
rise to as many as 17 pups.
Sarcoptic mange occurs in coyote populations throughout
Nebraska. Mange outbreaks occasionally become severe and
can seriously reduce coyote populations over large areas for a
number of years. Other important diseases and parasites that
effect coyotes include canine distemper, canine hepatitis and
heartworm. Surprisingly, rabies is not an important disease in
coyotes, although they are susceptible to that disease.
Several million dollars worth of livestock
losses are annually attributed to coyote depredation nationwide
and several million dollars are spent trying to control
those losses. In Nebraska, the coyote is among the top three
wildlife species that are responsible for depredation complaints.
Livestock losses are predominantly for sheep and
young calves. Attempts to control losses involve short-term
coyote population reduction and the removal of offending individuals
by shooting, trapping, or poisoning. Poisoning must
be done only by trained professionals. Changes in animal husbandry
practices have proven effective in reducing losses to
As Nebraska's dominant terrestrial predator, coyotes can influence
the abundance of their competitors. The abundance of
coyotes is inversely related to the abundance of red foxes and
boboats. When coyote numbers increase, fox and bobcat numbers
decrease and when coyote numbers decrease, fox and
bobcat numbers can increase.
The coyote is an extremely cunning animal that provides
thousands of days of hunting and trapping recreation each
year. From 1941-89, 540,000 coyotes were harvested by fur
trappers and hunters. Harvest totals 1980-89 indicated an
average annual harvest of 20,900 coyotes, their pelts valued at
The call of the coyote has long been associated with life on the
Great Plains. This versatile animal has survived and thrived
under persecution and major changes in its habitat.