American folklore often tells the story of Coyote. He plays many
roles but is best known as the trickster. Coyotes (Canis latrans)
are extremely adaptable and thrive in a wide range of habitats
from mountains to deserts. In fact, they are among the most
adaptable mammals in North America. Even as humans modify their
habitat, they still are able to exploit necessary resources.
They can be found as far north as Alaska and as far south as
Central America. The coyote’s deceptive manor along with its
intelligence has made it the survivor it is today and that it
has been for thousands of years.
It is easy to see that coyotes are canines, like domestic dogs and wolves. When coyotes run, they hold their tails down, unlike wolves, which run with their tails straight out. Coyote fur can vary considerably. Depending on the region, coyotes may be brown, red, or grayish. They have long, triangular ears and a narrow snout.
Coyotes do most of their hunting at night and their diet can vary. They are opportunistic and eat whatever is available to them but they prefer fresh kills. Mammals are a major portion of their diet, although sometimes they will eat snakes and birds. In the fall and winter months, coyotes are known to eat fruits and berries along with other vegetation. Coyotes are incredible hunters. When hunting small prey like mice, a coyote will stand extremely still and wait for the mouse to come in pouncing range. Other times they will stalk prey. Working in a pack creates an advantage for coyotes when preying on larger mammals such as deer, or when defending food resources, territory, and themselves. When hunting larger prey, they work in teams and take turns chasing the animal until it tires, making it easier to kill.
Coyotes live in a variety of social arrangements. Some live alone, others in mated pairs, and others in packs, which may consist of one mated pair, their new young, and offspring from the previous season that have not yet left their parents. Generally coyotes living in unexploited areas form packs. In the spring and early summer, females typically have a litter of about six puppies. The puppies are born helpless and blind. After 10 days the puppies can open their eyes and after about four to six weeks they emerge from their den. Coyotes only use dens to give birth and nurse their young. The den serves only as a temporary nursery. Dens often have more than one opening and are hard to find. Coyotes are very careful about not leading anyone or anything to their dens. Coyotes have not one, but several dens which they use. This not only protects their pups from predators, but moving the pups also protects them from the fleas and other parasites that build up in the den. Coyotes will aggressively defend their puppies if threatened. After the female nurses the puppies for four to six weeks, both the male and female co-parent the puppies by feeding them regurgitated food.
Coyotes are the most vocal mammals in North America. In fact, their name comes from the Aztec word, “coyoti,” which means “barking dog.” Because coyotes are more active at night, vocal communication is more important than visual communication. Coyotes communicate using a variety of sounds including barks, yips and howls. Coyotes use howls to let other members of the pack know their location. They use short barks to warn others of danger nearby. When a pack of coyotes welcomes a new member into the pack, they “yip.”
The coyote is often viewed as a nuisance, but they are highly intelligent and play an important role in the natural ecosystem. They are, however, remarkably adaptable and therefore management of the species through hunting and trapping is beneficial. In Oklahoma, coyotes are open to hunting year-round with no daily limit or season limit. For full season details, consult the current “Oklahoma Hunting Guide.”