| Dec 18, 2008

Outdoors - Wolves and Coyotes

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Outdoors in the LandO'Lakes - December 11, 2008 Wolves and Coyotes: Part 2 Outdoors in the Land O'Lakesby Steve Blight

The eastern coyote

The last column provided some of the latest information on the rise of the Eastern Coyote in Ontario. Today’s column will describe the Eastern Coyote in more detail and describe some of its habits.

The Eastern Coyote shows a lot of variation in its look and its habits across its range. For example, in southwestern Ontario it is quite a small animal. In our area and elsewhere on the Frontenac Arch, the Eastern Coyote is a larger animal, likely reflecting a greater influence of wolf genes. In some cases it is very difficult to tell the difference between the Eastern Wolf and an Eastern Coyote without sophisticated DNA testing.

Eastern Coyotes tend to be smaller and have more pointed ears and muzzles and proportionately smaller feet than wolves. About as big as a medium-sized dog, adult Eastern Coyotes weigh between 33–40 pounds, with some individuals weighing as much as 50 pounds. Total body length varies from 120 to 150 cm (48–60 inches), with tail lengths of about 40 cm (16 inches). The colour of the Eastern Coyote’s fur is variable, but a silvery gray to a grizzled, brownish red with a black swath along the middle of the back is the most common. The black tipped bushy tail is usually held low, whereas wolves and dogs tend to hold their tails straight out or slightly above the horizontal. When they run, coyotes will place the back foot in the print made by the front foot, creating a single line of prints which tend to be straight.

Coyotes are generalists, eating whatever food is seasonally abundant. They are known to feed on mice, squirrels, groundhogs, snowshoe hare, deer, house cats, carrion, amphibians, garbage, insects and fruit. Coyotes use forested habitats, shrubby open fields, marshy areas and river valleys, and pose little risk to people.

For example, in the US state of New Hampshire there has never been a report of a coyote attacking a person. Pet owners in coyote country should probably be concerned about the safety of their pets, however, since it is believed that coyotes may regard house cats and small varieties of dogs as suitable prey. The safest bet would be to keep cats and small dogs inside the house.

The Eastern Coyote is a social animal that generally selects a lifelong mate. Territories range in size up to about 50 square kilometers. A typical female breeds during her second year and bears an average of 5 to 7 pups in a den during April or May. Both parents care for their young, occasionally with the assistance of older offspring, but normally only 30-50% of those pups survive their first winter.

Within a year some pups will disperse long distances to find their own territories, while other offspring may remain with their parents and form a small pack. When the coyote population increases beyond the environment's ability to support it, parasites and density-dependent diseases such as mange and distemper will naturally prune their numbers.

The average life span of a wild coyote is about four years.

Coyotes mark and defend their territories against other unrelated coyotes and sometimes against other canine species, including red foxes. Coyotes are capable of many distinct vocalizations - the yipping of youngsters, barks to indicate a threat, long howls used to bring pack members together, and group yip-howls issued when pack members reunite. They are especially vocal during the January to March breeding season.

Coyotes are elusive, adaptive, intelligent animals that manage to hold their own when living in close contact with humans. Most coyote management attempts have been designed to reduce their numbers, but due to their rapid reproduction, and adaptability, those attempts have generally failed.

Coyotes are biologically able to reproduce with domestic dogs, but rarely do. Genetic testing of coyote tissue in the Northeast US shows no coyote/dog interbreeding. One possible reason is since domestic male dogs that manage to pair with a female coyote do not remain with her to assist in parental care, the young rarely survive.

The Eastern Coyote – an addition to the fauna of our area that is likely here to stay.

Part 1 / Part 2

Please feel free to report any observations to Lorraine Julien This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Steve Blight at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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