Physical Characteristics and Background:
A member of the canine family, the coyote's cousins include dogs, foxes and wolves. A male weighs an average of 20-35 pounds when fully grown, while females usually weigh 5 pounds less. A mature coyote is four to five feet long from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail, and it stands about 60 cm (24 inches) at the shoulder. Some people describe the coyote as looking much like a small, thin German Shepherd. Its name is derived from the Aztec word "coyotl".
The coyote is primarily nocturnal and hunts alone or in relays, running tail downward and sometimes attaining a speed of 64 km (40 miles) per hour. During nightly jaunts, these animals frequently release a distinctinve bark -- which is followed by an extended, shrill howl. Highly intelligent, coyotes have a reputation for cunning and swiftness. It has been persecuted by humans because of the damage it causes farmers, as it does hunt domestic or game animals. Despite such persecutions though, the coyote has adapted well to environments dominated by humans and is found with regularity in such populous areas as suburban Los Angeles.
Diet and Habitat:
Feeding mainly on rodents and hares, the coyote also eats carrion and most types of animal and vegetable matter. It is an opportunistic carnivore and takes advantage of seasonal changes in the abundance of food items. In winter time, coyotes will prey upon larger animals such as rabbits or deer. Coyotes are extremely adaptable and live in a wide variety of climates, from grasslands to northern boreal forests. 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 location.
Reproduction and Rearing:
Coyotes reproduce once a year, after pairs are formed and breeding occurs in January-February. These two mates may even remain monogamous throughout their lives, as they can be very loyal creatures. Coyote breeding is dependent on food availability and population density. Hence, if levels of coyote prey increase in a particular area, then you would expect to find more coyotes there soon after. Pups are born nine weeks after conception. The litter size generally relies upon two key factors; the age of the mother and the amount of available food in the area. 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. However, some young ones may not leave the family group for up to two years. When a pup leaves its home, it usually relocates within five to 10 miles. Though this is not always the case, since records have shown some to travel in excess of 300 miles from their birthplace.
Coyotes are still found from Alaska -- south to Costa Rica, and especially on the Great Plains of the United States. Historically, the eastern border of its range was the US's Appalachian Mountains. During the 20th century, however, the coyote expanded its range. It may now can be found in all of the continental United States. Because of its inherent ability to prey upon animals larger than itself, a farmer's livestock (mostly sheep or calves) losses can promote action against the coyote. Attempts to control these losses involve short-term coyote population reduction, and the removal of offending individuals by shooting, trapping, or poisoning. Yet, changes in animal husbandry practices have proven effective in reducing losses to coyotes. Overall, these animals are uniquely American in their origin, and should be treated with great respect for having adapted so well to the constant reshaping of the American landscape.
Note: Some information has been excerpted from "ngp.ngpc.state.ne.us/" and "www.britannica.com/".