Eastern coyotes are increasingly common—here are 5 facts to know about them (2023)

This story originally featured on Outdoor Life.

They go by many names: coydog, yodel dog, song dog, trickster, brush wolf, tweed wolf …

Most people, including biologists, now generally refer to them as Eastern coyotes (Canis latrans), but sometimes even the scientists aren’t exactly sure where this critter falls in the taxonomic spectrum. Meanwhile the human population is split. Some hunters consider them a nuisance and even a bane, others a challenge. Some suburban and even urban dwellers fear them, while others are thrilled to have them around. So what really is this large canid that now occupies nearly all of the eastern US and Canada? Let’s take a look.

1. Are coydogs real?

Eastern coyotes were, and still are, sometimes colloquially referred to as coydogs, particularly on the leading edge of their eastward expanding range. Some of this is due to our need to ascribe names to new and different creatures.

“Our Eastern coyotes are very different from Western coyotes,” says Shevenell Webb, furbearer biologist with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. “On average, they’re about 10 pounds heavier. They eat deer and they show more color variation. Some exhibit a pale gray pelage similar to western coyotes, but others are blond, red, and even black. It was once thought this variation may be derived from historical breeding with dogs.”

Trent University professor and geneticist Linda Rutledge acknowledges that in Ontario researchers documented some dog introgression in the genome—but just in the Y chromosome, and not much.

(Video) 22 Fun and Amazing Facts About Coyotes

“While there is some possible dog ancestry in the Eastern coyotes,” she says, “it is very limited and regional in places where it might occur.”

2. Is coywolf an appropriate term?

Webb is clear on this point.

“The term ‘coywolf’ is very misleading to the public. Eastern coyotes are coyotes. We recognize that some hybridization occurred, but they are not wolves.”

Most samples from genetic studies in Maine were deemed to be of Eastern coyote ancestry, but a small percentage had wolf ancestry.

“At some point, both species interbred and that signature is carried in genetics,” says Webb. She also noted one coyote had a wolf ancestry of 89 percent. Interestingly, it was one of the smaller animals in the study, a 27-pound female. “It didn’t look anything like a wolf,” she adds.

Rutledge is more circumspect, acknowledging the term is not entirely inaccurate. “The Eastern coyote is a hybrid animal that has both coyote and wolf ancestry,” she says.

(Video) Living with Eastern Coyotes: The Incredible Story of our Newest Wild Neighbors

Webb’s sentiment, echoed by other wildlife biologists and managers likely stems, at least in part, from the power of perception. The idea of a wolf in the neighborhood might be unpalatable to some folks. There’s also resistance to a more sinister motivation. Some claim that labeling this newcomer as a distinct species with “wolf” as part of its name could afford it more protection under the Endangered Species Act.

3. Why have Eastern coyotes been so successful?

In a word, adaptability. Some of this comes from their ancestry.

“The more genetic variation present, the more adaptable a species will be to changes in its environment,” says Rutledge. The Eastern coyote’s suite of genes proved quite beneficial as they moved eastward into a new and very diverse environment.

“This species that has adapted very well to Maine conditions, and is more successful than perhaps wolves could be,” Webb noted. “They live near people [and] have a more diverse diet.”

When large prey is scarce, they’ll eat smaller prey like rabbits, hares, and small mammals. When meat is scarce they subsist on a vegan diet. Household pets are on the menu in and around the trappings of man.

Eastern coyotes also have different physical and behavioral characteristics that allow them to better survive. One of those characteristics is what biologists call behavioral plasticity. Some Eastern coyotes form strong pair bonds and establish packs consisting of an alpha male and female, and extended family members, much like wolves do. Others mate, raise a litter, then drive their grown offspring away each year before raising another litter the following spring. Still others—usually males—are serially nomadic, settling down perhaps just long enough to raise a litter before moving on to a new mate and territory. And some may choose one strategy for a while, then change to another.

(Video) Coyotes are now more common than ever in South Carolina. Here's what you need to know

Rutledge frames the Eastern coyote as a very fascinating natural experiment.

“The role left vacant when wolves were extirpated is an important one,” she says. Deer evolved over millennia in the presence of large predators. By removing those predators we may have done them and ourselves a disservice. Clear evidence exists in the proliferation of Lyme disease, car-deer collisions, CWD, and a changing public perspective of deer from once proud woodland creature to back yard nuisance.

“On the balance, it’s better for the ecosystem and biodiversity to have [Eastern coyotes] around,” continues Rutledge. Some might disagree, but it’s a fair point: Isn’t it a little selfish, not to mention a disruption of the natural order, to want fewer predators around and more deer, just so we can kill more deer?

4. Just how bad are these predators?

To a great extent, that’s a matter of perspective. Physical characteristics like larger bodies, skulls, and jaw muscles make Eastern coyotes better adapted to taking down larger prey, and deer are a favorite. A South Carolina study found that coyote predation accounted for between 46 and 84 percent of all deer mortality in the study area, and somewhere between 47 and 62 percent of all fawns succumbed to coyote predation, most within the first three weeks of life. Researchers also determined that most fawns were killed by different coyotes, meaning this behavior was pervasive rather than a few individuals that had learned to specialize in killing fawns.

While the researchers didn’t go so far as to say coyotes represent a threat for deer across the Southeast, they did note that the statewide deer population in South Carolina has declined approximately 30 percent since the mid 1990s—a period coinciding very nicely with an increase in coyote numbers. Other studies in Georgia and Alabama have shown coyote predation to be a leading cause of fawn mortality, and lower fall fawn-to-doe ratios since the arrival of coyotes.

Research is lacking in the Northeast, but it’s reasonable to assume the impact is worse in areas where deep snows concentrate deer and limit their mobility, and coyotes prey on adult deer more frequently. We also know coyotes practice surplus or opportunity killing, taking down and killing prey not for food but merely because it’s easily available.

(Video) Eastern Coyote Ecology & Behavior Presentation by Dr. Jonathan Way

All this makes them very unpopular with deer hunters. Behavioral plasticity in their breeding behavior also makes them difficult to eradicate. Removing an alpha male may disrupt pack dynamics for a short while but a nomad will soon be along to take its place. Or a subordinate may take over the role. Furthermore, absence of an alpha male in a formerly well-defended territory could result in several males establishing several families. When coyote numbers are reduced, prey becomes relatively more abundant. This, and less intra-specific aggression results in higher productivity and thus, more coyotes.

5. Is the Eastern coyote really a newcomer?

The recent history is fairly clear. Western coyotes began expanding their range eastward around the turn of the previous century, and somewhere along the way they met up with dwindling wolf populations.

“When a population is at a low, individuals will breed with other species if they can’t find a mate of their own [species],” says Rutledge.

The exact nature of these interactions is still unclear but the coyotes carried a diverse array of DNA as they continued east, into New York in the 1920s and Maine during the late 1960s and early 1970s. By the late 1970s, they had spread into southern New England, and subsequently continued expanding north and east into Atlantic Canada, and south throughout much of the Northeast.

Meanwhile, coyotes advanced on a southern front, crossing the Mississippi River around the mid 1960s and rapidly expanding eastward from Arkansas and Louisiana. Genetic evidence suggests they eventually linked up with their northern cousins during the mid 1980s in the central Appalachian mountains of Virginia and West Virginia.

Around this same time, the US Fish and Wildlife Service began reintroducing endangered red wolves along the North Carolina coast, and subsequently in Mississippi, Florida, and interior North Carolina. Some geneticists contend that red wolves are a distinct species while others claim they may be a divergent subspecies of Eastern timber wolves. Physically, they look very much like Eastern coyotes. There’s also evidence that a coyote, or coyote-like canid, once existed in the east, but disappeared from the fossil record about 11,000 years ago—about the same time red wolves began to appear, and humans started to inhabit North America.

(Video) Coyote Behavior: The Urban Coyote Culture

The final analysis

What we’re left with is more questions than answers. Are Eastern coyotes new, or are they returning to fill a vacated and important ecological niche as top predators? Are they a distinct species, a coyote-wolf hybrid, or a divergent Western coyote with more than a trace of wolf ancestry? Perhaps a better question is: Do they belong here? They can be a nuisance to neighborhoods, a bane to deer hunters, and a challenge to both predator hunters and wildlife managers. Depending on your perspective, you can either appreciate or accept them, but they’re certainly not going away.

FAQs

What are coyotes most known for? ›

Coyotes can also work together to kill deer, according to the Atlanta Coyote Project. Opportunistic coyotes will take advantage of pet food, garbage and other food left out by humans, especially in urban environments. They have also been known to hunt livestock and human pets, such as dogs and cats.

What is interesting about a coyote? ›

They can run up to 40 MPH when chasing prey. Coyotes are frequent communicators that growl, bark, wail, huff, yelp, squeal, and howl. Coyotes are territorial and mark their area with urine. Coyotes are monogamous animals - meaning they mate for life.

Where are coyotes most common? ›

Coyotes can be found throughout North America from eastern Alaska to New England and south into Mexico and Panama.

How big is the largest coyote? ›

The largest coyote on record was a male killed near Afton, Wyoming, on November 19, 1937, which measured 1.5 m (4 ft 11 in) from nose to tail, and weighed 34 kg (75 lb).

How strong is a coyote? ›

Coyotes have quite a strong bite, generating a bite force of 88 PSI. Their narrow lower jaw usually gives off the strongest punch. Apart from their very strong jaws, what helps coyotes defeat bigger animals is their nature to hunt in packs, giving them more strength in taking down prey.

How fast can a coyote run? ›

What are three facts about coyotes? ›

09 Coyotes aren't as pack-centered compared to wolves. 10 Coyotes are less territorial than wolves. 11 Coyotes do not dig their own dens. 12 Coyotes have the widest vocal range out of all North American mammals.

How far can a coyote smell? ›

The extremely wary coyote has a remarkable sense of smell; some hunters have even noted being smelled by the unique canines from as far as 350 yards. One of the big debates among predator hunters is how to best fool a coyote's nose. I'll be the first one to say, you will never fool a coyotes nose 100 percent.

How far can coyote hear? ›

For example, a coyote might be able to hear your call from 600 yards away, but its comfort zone for responding might only be 300 yards. Thus, the coyote will stay bedded. As the wind increases, coyotes move into rougher terrain and/or thicker cover to escape the wind's brutality.

How much can a coyote carry? ›

Coyotes will carry a 25 pound pet over a fence!

Coyotes can grab and carry any animal that weighs up to 25lbs, over a 6ft fence. They are also able to dig under a fence quickly. However, being opportunist, they take the approach that is the fastest, easiest, which is usually over the fence.

How far can coyotes see at night? ›

This basically means a coyote can see at 20 feet what a human can see at 70 feet. The one vision strength coyotes have over humans is their peripheral vision. This is what can make it very hard to sneak up on a coyote.

Why do coyotes bark? ›

Coyotes howl and yip primarily to communicate with each other and establish territory. They may bark when they are defending a den or a kill. People typically overestimate the number of coyotes they hear.

Do coyotes eat dogs? ›

They eat rabbits, carrion (dead animals), rodents, deer (usually fawns), insects (such as grasshoppers), livestock and poultry. Coyotes eat fruit including berries and watermelons. They will also eat cats and dogs.

Can coyote be a pet? ›

Many people wish to raise coyotes as pets, however wild animals like coyotes are difficult to domesticate like dogs. They have evolved feral impulses to survive in the wild. Some humans have successfully tamed wild coyotes through domestication methods, but this is not recommended.

Do coyotes eat cats? ›

Whatever the figures, coyotes are opportunistic animals and will hunt and eat cats when they live in proximity. Small dogs are also at risk, although these attacks are much less common.

Will a coyote eat a human? ›

There have only been two recorded incidences in the United States and Canada of humans being killed by coyotes. One involved a child in Southern California in the 1980s and the other a 19-year old woman in Nova Scotia in 2009. These events, rare as they are, are serious and warrant serious response.

How big are coyotes teeth? ›

Coyotes are known for their long snouts. The palate length/width ratio for a coyote is more than 2; whereas that for wolves and dogs is less than 2. The entire jaw length is 5.5 inches; the line of teeth is just under 4 inches.

Why do coyotes yip at night? ›

The moonlight allows coyotes to see their home region at night, enabling defending coyote packs to howl to inform intruders of their presence. Non-member coyotes are not allowed into their range. The home pack will protect its area with howls, whines, and barks to warn intruders that they are not welcome.

How high can a coyote jump? ›

Barbara Ray answers this question from March 2020. Coyotes can leap up to about three feet in the air. However, they can climb over just about any size fence by jumping up and using their back feet to climb up and over.

Why do coyotes jump in the air? ›

Coyotes may watch dogs, follow, or hurry in your direction for many reasons, including curiosity, or investigation. They may jump up and down because of anxiety.

Are coyotes faster than dogs? ›

Coyotes have been “clocked” running short distances at speeds of up to 40 MPH (64 km/hr)! By comparison, the fastest human, Usain Bolt, has a top sprint speed of just 28 MPH. The top speed of a domestic cat is approximately 30 MPH, and the top speed of the fastest dog, the Greyhound, is about 43 MPH.

How fast can a coyote swim? ›

Do coyotes smell like urine? ›

Coyote urine smells very much like a domestic dog's, and members of the weasel family often have musky-smelling urine, though a recently-sniffed fisher marking had very little scent. Naturally Curious is supported by donations.

Can coyotes smell cat urine? ›

Cat litter does attract predators like foxes and coyotes. It alerts them to your cat's presence through the smell produced in their urine and droppings.

What food attracts coyotes? ›

Coyotes are attracted by bread, table scraps, seed, or even birds that come to the feeder. Secure garbage containers and eliminate garbage odors.

Why do coyotes cry? ›

"Howling is a basic communication behavior in coyotes," says Gary San Julian, Penn State professor of wildlife resources. "It has several functions. One is to call the pack—really a family group—back together again after a period of individual hunting.

What color light is best for hunting coyotes? ›

The best color light for predator hunting is red.

Coyotes are natures premier predator, and they are very observant and aware of their surroundings. This is common among all of the top predators, because unlike hogs, they are much harder to trick.

Can you hunt coyotes with a 22? ›

22 Long Rifle. It has also proven to deliver very good precision out of a wide range of firearms, which makes it suitable for head shots on coyotes. And it's very pelt-friendly.

Do coyotes eat dog poop? ›

Pick up Poop

Your dog's feces can attract coyotes to your property, so keeping your yard or fields clear of poop can help lower the risk of attracting one. They will also eat fallen fruit, so picking up any windfalls is a good idea.

Can I shoot a coyote if it attacks my dog? ›

If it is harming pets, damaging property or lurking uncomfortably close to people, state law allows people to kill the coyote themselves.

Can a dog fight a coyote? ›

Yes, certain domestic dogs can kill coyotes, but most cannot and would die or get seriously injured. If the breed of dog is large, like a Mastiff, and bred for hunting or guarding, he would have a greater chance. You should keep most domestic dogs away from Coyotes, especially small and medium-sized breeds.

Are coyotes color blind? ›

Keep in mind that although coyotes are nearly color-blind, they have excellent hearing and their noses are second to none.

What color are coyote eyes in flashlight? ›

Bright yellow eyeshine usually belongs to a raccoon. Coyotes, wolves and dog's eyes usually have a fiery white glow. A bobcat's eyeshine is yellowish white. A bear's eyes will glow fiery orange.

What colors can coyote see? ›

While we see the world with a vast arrangement of colors, coyotes only see the yellow & blue color spectrum according to multiple studies. Assumptions are made that K9s see every other color as shades of grey.

Do coyotes laugh? ›

Coyotes mostly vocalize with a bark or a flat howl, both of which have many variations. Other sounds include a yip, warble, laugh, and irregular howl.

Is coyote meat good? ›

Coyote is another species that is not known for being edible, however when properly handled and prepared, it can taste just as good as lean beef!

What are coyotes scared of? ›

As a general rule, coyotes do have a healthy dose of fear about certain things. In truth, coyotes are afraid of people, objects thrown in their direction, loud noisemakers and sounds, bright lights, and predator urine. All of these can help to repel and deter coyotes from your property.

How do I know if a coyote killed my cat? ›

Signs That a Coyote Killed Your Pet
  1. Tracks. Look for coyote tracks in the area where your pet was attacked. ...
  2. Scat. Coyotes may leave scat, otherwise known as feces or droppings, behind if they have been on your property. ...
  3. Wounds. Coyotes typically bite larger animals directly behind the throat or jugular area. ...
  4. Prey Was Eaten.

Do coyotes eat Chihuahuas? ›

Yes. A coyote can eliminate or eat your dog if given the chance or if they are hungry or desperate. While these attacks are not commonplace, dogs under 50 pounds are at risk of a coyote attack due to their size. To keep coyotes away from your dog, make sure to keep your pets inside when unattended.

Are dogs afraid of coyotes? ›

Different dogs will react in their own unique way, but many will become alert and uneasy as they display a heightened awareness of their surroundings. Your dog may start sniffing and looking around for clues or any signs that will tell him where the coyote is.

How rare is a black coyote? ›

The Greensboro Science Center says black coyotes are rare, but it's unclear just how rare they are because not much research has been done on them. According to researchers with the Atlanta Coyote Project, for every 75-100 coyotes trapped in southern Georgia, 2-3 were black - around 2%.

How big is a full grown coyote? ›

Coyote (Canis latrans). The coyote stands about 60 cm (24 inches) at the shoulder, weighs about 9–23 kg (20–50 pounds), and is about 1–1.3 metres (3.3–4.3 feet) long, including its 30–40-cm tail.

Is coyote a dog? ›

Description. The coyote is a medium-sized member of the dog family that includes wolves and foxes. With pointed ears, a slender muzzle, and a drooping bushy tail, the coyote often resembles a German shepherd or collie.

Do coyotes eat cat poop? ›

"Cat remains were found in 20 percent of urban coyote scat, as compared to four of suburban coyote scat," the National Park Service reported. "Human food resources including garbage, ornamental fruits, and domestic cats accounted for between 60 to 75 percent of urban coyote diets."

What does coyote poop look like? ›

Coyote droppings resemble a knotted rope with multiple pieces. They're big and tubular. Coyote droppings are usually 3/4 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter and 3 to 5 inches long. Male coyote poo is larger than female coyote poo, measuring 6 to 12 inches in length depending on the coyote's size.

Do coyotes eat the bones? ›

The bone-chewing coyotes consumed their rawhide treats more than three times as fast and ate nearly 1.5 times as much of the beef shank as did coyotes without access to bones as pups, LaCroix reported at the meeting. The beef shank also looked different after it had been chewed by the two groups.

What are coyotes weaknesses? ›

It is a remarkably hard runner with incredible stamina. Swift, tough and wily, the coyote has only 2 known weaknesses: it sleeps heavily and looks back while fleeing, both of which the savvy hunter can take advantage of. Coyotes are, on the whole, monogamous, and couples remain together for many years.

Are coyotes aggressive? ›

Although coyotes have been known to attack humans (and pets) and as such are a potential danger to people, especially children, risks are minimal and we feel that the majority of attack incidents could be reduced or prevented through modification of human behavior.

Do coyotes eat dogs? ›

They eat rabbits, carrion (dead animals), rodents, deer (usually fawns), insects (such as grasshoppers), livestock and poultry. Coyotes eat fruit including berries and watermelons. They will also eat cats and dogs.

How far can a coyote smell? ›

The extremely wary coyote has a remarkable sense of smell; some hunters have even noted being smelled by the unique canines from as far as 350 yards. One of the big debates among predator hunters is how to best fool a coyote's nose. I'll be the first one to say, you will never fool a coyotes nose 100 percent.

How fast can a coyote swim? ›

What are coyotes scared of? ›

As a general rule, coyotes do have a healthy dose of fear about certain things. In truth, coyotes are afraid of people, objects thrown in their direction, loud noisemakers and sounds, bright lights, and predator urine. All of these can help to repel and deter coyotes from your property.

Do coyotes smell like urine? ›

Coyote urine smells very much like a domestic dog's, and members of the weasel family often have musky-smelling urine, though a recently-sniffed fisher marking had very little scent. Naturally Curious is supported by donations.

What sounds are coyotes scared of? ›

Effective hazing noises that can deter coyotes include shouting authoritatively, making loud and startling banging noises, and sounding sirens and alarms. Coyotes can be a nuisance because of their wily nature.

Has a coyote ever killed a human? ›

There have only been two recorded incidences in the United States and Canada of humans being killed by coyotes. One involved a child in Southern California in the 1980s and the other a 19-year old woman in Nova Scotia in 2009. These events, rare as they are, are serious and warrant serious response.

Can coyotes be friendly? ›

Coyotes and domestic dogs are very close relatives, so coyotes have been known to sometimes approach them socially. That can include the kind of bowing and tail-wagging that we all know means, “Be my friend!” in dog language.

Do coyotes scream? ›

Coyotes make a variety of sounds including yipping. growling, howling, laughing, and even screaming.

Do coyotes eat dog poop? ›

Pick up Poop

Your dog's feces can attract coyotes to your property, so keeping your yard or fields clear of poop can help lower the risk of attracting one. They will also eat fallen fruit, so picking up any windfalls is a good idea.

Can a dog fight a coyote? ›

Yes, certain domestic dogs can kill coyotes, but most cannot and would die or get seriously injured. If the breed of dog is large, like a Mastiff, and bred for hunting or guarding, he would have a greater chance. You should keep most domestic dogs away from Coyotes, especially small and medium-sized breeds.

Do coyotes try to mate with dogs? ›

Coyotes are attracted to and can mate with unsprayed or unneutered domestic dogs. Unspayed female dogs in season can attract male coyotes.

Videos

1. Eastern Coyotes: History, Ecology, and How to Coexist - A Webinar with WCC's Dana Goin
(Wolf Conservation Center)
2. Living With Coyotes Presentation
(Browardcountyparks)
3. Eastern Coyote Presentation
(Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department)
4. ALL ABOUT COYOTES Summer Behavior and Pup Rearing pt.1 Coyote Calling and Hunting Tips
(MFK GameCalls)
5. History and Ecology of the Eastern Coyote
(Wolf Conservation Center)
6. Virtual Summer Lecture Series: Coyotes
(Mercer County Park Commission)
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