Coyotes are known as the aloof, magical, furry spies of the forest. Their size, speed, and stealth allow them to stay hidden from human sight most of the time, but not from our curiosity. They are truly remarkable creatures with a unique mix of traits both physical and behavioral. I have listed seven of their most interesting behavioral traits and how they use them to their advantage to not only survive, but to thrive.
Coyotes are known for being sneaky, clever, and aloof. Most often, they will see you long before you see them. They accomplish this level of stealth with a few strategies. They naturally have profound senses of smell and eyesight. As they approach an area, they carefully scan it for unfamiliar sights and smells before proceeding. Then, in case there is something they missed, they walk on their tiptoes to reduce the amount of noise they make when walking. This allows them to slip by a hunter that may have even gone undetected by the coyote itself.
Coyotes seem like quite dominant creatures who would not fear many others. However, they are shy animals who do not approach danger or potential danger willingly. Unless another animal looks like dinner, it is unlikely that a coyote will bother it in any way. Likewise, coyotes steer clear of humans as much as possible. Urban sprawl has brought people closer to them, but they truly pose little threat to humans, children, or pets in most cases. Unless you have young or weak small livestock such as sheep, coyotes are not likely to be a problem for you. Instead, you will likely find that they are handy, behind the scenes, hunters of true pests such as rodents and snakes.
Coyotes mate for life. After their first breeding season, they typically only mate with the same coyote for subsequent years. That is, unless one of them dies or in the case of an alpha growing impatient with his mate’s estrous cycle. Since female coyotes are monoestrous, they are only available for breeding for ten days out of the year. However, breeding season lasts about three months for the entire population. So, if an alpha male grows impatient waiting for his mate to come into estrus, he may wander to find an available female in estrus with whom to breed. He will still return to his original mate, though, and breed with her for the year as well.
As afore mentioned, coyotes are monogamous. With these stable relationships come others, and packs are formed. Usually led by an alpha male and female, these family groups live, hunt, and raise young together. Older siblings usually aid in the raising of their new siblings along with their own young and help to provide food for the entire family while the pups are being weaned. Once pups reach adulthood, they may choose to stay in their pack or to form their own, but few will become transient. Most likely, if a coyote become transient, and does not find residence in a pack, it will only be until the following breeding season. Once breeding resumes, the lone coyote will likely find a mate and take residence with a pack.
Packs are useful for hunting as well. Groups of two to four will split off from the pack to harvest a larger mammal such as a deer for the pack to enjoy. Rather than chasing the deer from behind, these coyote hunting convoys approach it head on. Enveloping the deer in an attack from the front prevents its escape and speeds up the kill. This method is very effective for the pack, and provides food for the family in one killing. This is especially useful when there are small pups around who may still be nursing.
Coyotes are quite territorial. The area in which their pack hunts, lives, and plays is essential, and overcrowding will hinder their quality of life. As a result, alphas will occasionally scuffle and fight for more land or to protect what land they have claimed for their pack. This territorial instinct is heightened during breeding season when dens are made and preparations are made for the new pups to arrive. Expectant coyote parents work tirelessly to ward off predators from the new den and surrounding areas so that when the pups arrive, those animals will be deterred from returning.
Coyotes are shy, but they are very vocal when necessary. A wide range of howls, yips, barks, and other sounds are packed into the coyote’s communication arsenal, and he uses them to communicate across long distances to other coyotes both friend and foe.
Long howls let pack members know the coyote’s location. Short barks warn of danger, and yips are welcoming. Growls can establish dominance, whines and whimpers establish female bonds, and high pitched barks summon the little ones!
Coyotes are adaptable. They are fully-functional in the daytime. However, when in locations that are close in proximity to humans, they may assume a more nocturnal schedule. In these cases, humans may encounter or see them in the late evenings or early mornings, but certainly not during the daytime. Due to human activity, coyotes avoid much movement or activity that would draw attention to themselves during the daytime when they are near humans.
However, in more remote regions, they likely will assume a more natural schedule of activity during the daytime.
Overall, the coyote is an exciting creature with several tricks in his den. The shy, sneaky, and spectacular coyote is one animal that piques the curiosity of many humans and seems to never lose its luster as a mythological figure. These seven traits are just a few of the many that make this animal so important to the ecosystems it inhabits and the cultures it influences.