The coyote is a member of the dog family, often mistaken for a small German shepherd. They do have many similarities with their dog cousins with bushy black tails, pointed ears and a long thin snout. Their coloring varies from light brown to gray with a white underbelly. Coyotes are sometimes called prairie wolves or brush wolves.
Coyotes are uniquely resourceful, able to adapt to all kinds of surroundings and habitats. They have been found in rural areas, woodland areas and even large cities. Currently, coyote populations are at an all-time high in the United States.
The average coyote is about 44 to 54 inches long, including its tail. They generally weigh more in the spring and summer; approximately 22 to 42 pounds on average. Western coyotes differ from their eastern relatives in size and color. Coyotes live 10 to 14 years in the wild but have been known to live as long as 20 years in captivity. Similar to their dog cousins, coyotes have a keen sense of smell and vision. Plus, coyotes have been known to run up to 40 miles per hour. These characteristics contribute to their being expert hunters and formidable predators. Coyotes have a distinct howl often heard at night and echoed by other coyotes in the vicinity.
Coyotes live in dens inside caves, crevices or abandoned dens of other animals. Packs of coyotes, usually family members, live in a very specific territory and rarely venture out of this area. These areas are often 20 to 30 miles diameter. Some solitary coyotes exist, shying away from the packs and their boundaries. Coyotes live in deserts, grasslands and foothills. Over the past 20 to 30 years, coyotes have migrated to Midwestern farmlands and woodland areas. Coyotes have become enormous pests for farms and ranches in these areas, because they kill calves, lambs and other farm animals.
Coyotes are omnivores, eating both plants and animals. They typically eat small rodents such as rabbits or mice, but they've been known to eat whatever they can find including pet food, small pets or trash. Coyotes tend to hunt in small packs rather than alone.
Coyotes living in the desert eat plants and small animals. Cactus fruit, flowers, insects, lizards and snakes make up the desert coyote's diet.
Female coyotes bear three to twelve coyote pups in April or May. The coyote pups are reared in a hidden den specially marked and protected by the adult coyotes. If the area is disturbed, the parents will quickly relocate their pups to a different spot for protection. The coyote pups can leave their den when they reach three to four weeks of age. When the puppies are completely weaned from their mother's milk, both parents take turns feeding the pups with regurgitated food. By the fall, the puppies can hunt by themselves. Male coyote pups leave home at six to nine months, but females will become part of the mother's pack.