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Wildlife Spotlight: Coyotes
By Michael Pratt, Director of Wildlife Services
A coyote pup.
- Coyotes are opportunists, both as hunters and as scavengers. They eat any small animal they can capture, including mice, rats, gophers, mountain beavers, rabbits, fawns, and squirrels as well as snakes, lizards, frogs, fish, birds, and carrion (animal carcasses). Grass, fruits, berries, grasshoppers, and other insects are also eaten along with garbage, garden crops, livestock, poultry, and pets (mostly cats outdoors at night).
- Coyotes occasionally kill domestic dogs and cats that they consider territorial intruders. Coyotes are also very protective of their young and will attack dogs that get too close to their den and pups.
- Note: The list of killers of domestic cats and dogs includes other dogs and cats, vehicles, bears, cougars, bobcats, foxes, disease, and furious neighbors!
- Most hunting activity takes place at night. Undisturbed and hungry coyotes will hunt during daylight hours and may be seen following farm machinery, catching voles and other small prey.
Reproduction, Den, and Family Structure
- The female coyote digs her own den under an uprooted tree, log, or thicket; may use a cave, hollow log, or storm drain; or take over and enlarge another mammal’s burrow.
- Coyotes usually have several dens and move from one to the other, minimizing the risk that a den containing young will be detected. These moves also help to prevent an accumulation of fleas and other parasites, as well as urine, droppings, and food refuse.
- Coyotes use the same dens yearly or make new dens in the same area.
- Mated coyotes will live, hunt, and raise pups together for many years, sometimes for life.
- Breeding occurs in late winter. After a gestation (pregnancy) of 63 days, an average of four pups are born from early April to late May.
- The young are principally cared for by the female; occasionally a nonbreeding sibling will assist with raising the litter. The male may provide some assistance.
- Pups emerge from the den in two to three weeks and begin to eat regurgitated food. Because food requirements increase dramatically during pup rearing, this is a period when conflicts between humans (and their pets) and coyotes are common.
∑ Juvenile coyotes usually disperse alone or sometimes in groups at six to eight months of age. A few may stay nearby, while others seek new territory up to 50 miles away. The greater the amount of food available in a given area, the closer the juveniles will stay to their den.
- Coyotes can interbreed with domestic dogs; however, such crosses are rare.
- Few coyotes live more than four years; the majority of pups die during their first year.
- By six months of age, pups have permanent teeth and are nearly fully grown. At about this time, female coyotes train their offspring to search for food, so it is not unusual to observe a family group.
- Never approach an occupied coyote den. A mother’s protective instincts can make her dangerous if she has young in or nearby the den.
Public Health Concerns
Coyote diseases or parasites are rarely a risk to humans, but could be a risk to domestic dogs in Washington. Anyone handling a coyote should wear rubber gloves and wash their hands well when finished. Have your dogs vaccinated and checked regularly for parasites.
For more information about coyotes visit the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife website or call Mike at 206-855-9057.