Ecology of our Eastern Coyotes

Coyote family by Ellison photography

Coyotes have a rich and complex social structure that is always alert to environmental restraints. This allows them to be flexible ~ by living as a lone transient, living on a territory alone, or living in a tight knit family.

Because coyotes have a complex social life, they have created a language that is understood by all of them. And that language is their Song.  People often ask me why coyotes howl, and often in their own wild and raucousy way. The answer is threefold: first they delight in “singing” together. It is a way for them to socially bond with each other. Research has shown that tiny coyote pups who can barely stand on their tiny legs are throwing their heads up to the sky and howling. Thus they have often been given the name “Songdogs.”

The second reason they howl is to communicate with each other when they are distances away.  You will often hear more coyote howling in late Summer and early Fall, as this is the time when the coyote parents are allowing their pups to explore their territory a little more on their own. So the parents will stay in touch with their pups by howling.  The third reason they howl is to announce to other coyotes that this is their territory.

To hear wild coyotes howling just press this paw, and close your eyes.

Coyote families are made up a pair of mated adults and their offspring. In addition, there can be other family members who are not involved in breeding, but who are very much involved with the care and safety of the pups.

Coyote’s use their home ranges to meet their daily needs, and they may overlap with the home ranges of neighboring coyotes. However coyotes territories, which are part of their home range, are defended and do not overlap.

The size of a coyote family’s home range and territory is dependent on food availability. Generally, in rural areas they are larger in size, and in more urban areas they are smaller in size. In comparison, a solitary coyote can have a very large home range.

Coyote family by Ellison photography

Under stable conditions, female coyotes often do not give birth until their fourth year, and by the time they are six, they will tend to be less fertile.

In late January mid February, only the alpha female mates with the alpha male. She is fertile for a short period of time once a year for about three weeks, and gives birth to her pups in April or May after a 60-63 day gestation period.

Under stable conditions, a coyote family will maintain their territory and not permit other coyotes to enter. In this setting the alpha female will tend to have around three to six pups that are fed from food available only from their territory. Only 30% of the pups will survive to their first year, many dying from starvation, disease, and predation by terrestrial and avian predators.

When coyotes are heavily exploited by humans, the stable family disintegrates, as well as their territorial defense. In this situation, often young coyotes that are only yearlings will have pups. Very young coyotes have difficulty being effective parents to their pups, who need to be taught all the complexities of survival from their parents.

Mom and pup by Andy Marks

Coyote families are very sensitive to the disruption of their close social relationships. When an alpha female or male is killed by humans, the family may break up and disperse, or temporarily go into a chaotic state. As a result, the young, inexperienced members of the family, who are not adept at hunting as yet, may starve to death or come into conflict with humans in their search for food.

Coyote activity patterns and hunting of their wild prey are also heavily influenced by human behavior, especially persecution and exploitation. Where coyotes are heavily exploited, they will tend to hunt limited wild prey at dusk and early morning, and will refrain from hunting diverse prey during the day, thus affecting the coyote’s positive influence in the ecosystem.