The Coyote by Jane S. MacCarter, Game and Fish
In the early 1900s, the coyote or barking dog, could be found only on the great plains of North America. Today, coyotes live in 49 of the 50 states and in much of Canada and Mexico.
When describing a coyote, lets start by saying they are among the most vocal of North American wildlife. Wolves rarely bark, but coyotes vocalize by means of yips, barks, and howls. It was long assumed coyotes originally descended from wolves, although recent DNA analysis determined it was actually the other way around. Both coyotes and wolves have long legs in proportion to their slim bodies. Both stand on the pads of their toes, called digitigrade posture. In the wild, coyotes may be confused with wolves, which are somewhat larger, have less pointed ears, and bigger feet; however, coyotes can usually be determined by their smaller size, elongated muzzles, and alert, prominent ears. Coyotes are much smaller than they sometimes appear. Their thick coat masks a bone structure that is lighter than that of many types of dogs. Adult coyotes weigh 20-40 pounds, with males slightly heavier than females. Total body length varies from 48-60 inches, with tails about 16 inches long.
When it comes to their diet, coyotes are opportunistic feeders. They prey upon a variety of mammals but will readily eat fruit, seeds, berries, or grasshoppers found along the way. In New Mexico, the favorite diet of the coyote is black-tailed jackrabbit with voles and mice a close second. When snows are deep in winter, coyotes can, and will, prey on deer; individuals singled out are usually first year fawns or the old or infirm. Although coyotes will prey upon domestic livestock in certain circumstances, they usually find it too time and energy consuming to do so. In winter, its far more efficient for coyotes to feed on carrion.
When it comes to territories, a wolves home range is about twelve times larger then that of a coyote. A coyote packs home range may be as small as 2-3 square miles to 40-50 square miles. In the heart of this range lies the packs core area, a much smaller, more intensely guarded zone in which coyotes spend most of their time.
Coyotes communicate through scent marking by fecal and urine deposits and anal sac secretions. Coyote scent marking is a way to keep tabs on their neighbors. Its also a way of keeping peace among predators who have learned that avoidance is better than confrontation. Coyotes have two anal musk glands that secrete a strong smelling, pasty liquid that acts as a personal identification for individual coyotes and, by extension, for packs.
As far as family life goes, coyote pairs are monogamous and devoted - living in unions that usually last a lifetime. A coyote pack is typically 3-8 animals. The nucleus of the pack is the mated pair, also known as the alpha pair, the dominant animals of the pack. Only the alpha pair may breed. Mating takes place in early February.
There are usually two or more beta coyotes in the pack, young adults who main role is to defend the packs territory and help look after the nursing mother and new pups. Betas are older siblings from the previous year who did not leave the pack when they reached young adulthood. Other siblings dispersed to become nomads (some permanently) or meet up with other dispersed coyotes of the opposite sex to eventually form new packs.
Pups are born to the alpha couple in late April or early May after a gestation period of 60-63 days. The female gives birth in a den modified or enlarged by adults, such as a hollow log, the abandoned burrow of another animal, or some natural shelter. Coyote pups are altricial, that is, born blind and helpless. About 10 days after birth, the pups eyes open. Youngsters emerge from the den at 2-3 weeks. While the alpha female cares for her pups, the other members of the pack care for her. They bring her food, baby sit the young so she may go off on her own, and help move the pups from one den to another. A core area will frequently have several den sites, and pups may be moved several times a week. This is for safetys sake, should the den be discovered by a potential enemy, as well as to avoid parasites that often infest dens.
Pups are weaned between 5-7 weeks but begin sampling solid food somewhat earlier. Mother and father coyote will regurgitate partially digested food for their growing family. Before long, pups accompany their parents and older siblings on hunting excursions. Young coyotes are highly vulnerable to natural and human-caused mortality. Less than half of all litter-mates live to complete their first year. In fall, the social organization of the pack undergoes an internal shuffle. Some of the pups disperse to become nomads, some stay on to become helpers (betas) for next springs pups, and previous betas may disperse to form packs of their own elsewhere.