Found in almost all parts of North America, the coyote is a well-known and often misunderstood animal. The coyote is a part of the same family as foxes, wolves, and the domestic dogs we call pets. As well-known as they are, there is plenty of mystery surrounding the coyote. Throughout North America, these animals are so numerous that they are thought of as pests, killing livestock and roaming streets near joggers. These sneaky animals are often seen alone in the low light hours. One question in particular that some wonder- do coyotes travel in packs in real life? There are many aspects of coyote activity and nature that need to be looked at in order to answer this question.
The coyote is native to North America and was first known to be found in the western parts of the continent in open desert and prairie areas where there was plentiful food such as deer and bison. These days there are no limits to where coyotes can be found, since much of their original habitat has been taken over by humans. Thought to be a true carnivore, the coyote is in fact an omnivore and will eat almost anything from large mule deer to trash. In order to find food, coyotes have adapted to coming in close range of neighborhoods and even big cities to get into garbage and pet food. They have even been known to prey upon pets and other small creatures right out of neighborhood back yards. With a coyote’s nature being less aggressive than their wolf cousins, they scavenge for food, usually on their own. Most coyotes that live in a close proximity to humans are nocturnal and hunt for their food at night or during low light hours of sunset and early morning. The further away from human activity, coyotes will hunt during daylight hours.
Many people will often see coyotes on their own and assume that they do not belong to a pack. While coyotes often hunt and travel by themselves over the course of a day, they still may belong to a pack with other coyotes. Like dogs, coyotes will mark their territories with urine. In areas where coyotes depend on strictly finding a natural diet their territory will be much larger than an area where coyotes can depend on finding food from humans. Coyotes do not migrate, but have territories called home ranges that they maintain for their lifetime until forced to move by humans or other larger coyotes.
Often, a pack of coyotes will be controlled and dominated by an alpha pair, a male and a female who will breed. The pack will usually consist of the alpha pair and their most recent offspring and offspring from previous years. On occasion, they may also allow in and include other beta coyotes that left their own pack. A pack of coyotes will usually be between two and ten adults depending on the availability of food. These single coyotes that aren’t true family members stay only temporarily.
During winter months, it is more common to see coyotes join forces to create bigger hunting packs when food is more scare. Early winter is the breeding time for female coyotes. When the alpha female and alpha male breed, other males will typically leave in search of new estrous females that haven’t yet selected a mate. Non Estrous females will stay with the pack and help raise pups with the alpha female.
If you have ever heard coyotes howling at night, it might sound like an entire pack of 30+ coyotes singing to the night. In fact, this is usually only a couple of coyotes that are capable of making that much noise, alerting other coyotes to their presence. Each coyote has their own distinct voice that can be heard and recognized by members of their pack from miles.
Eastern and Western
There are two main coyote types common in North America, – the Eastern coyote and the Western coyote. While they are very similar to each other there are differences between them to tell them apart. Originally, coyotes were only found in the western part of the continent before they began migrating all over and eventually making it to the eastern portion of North America.
The Eastern coyote is larger than the Western, approximately 35-45 pounds. The males are usually larger than the females. The Eastern coyote has a more reddish blond color with dark tan fur and a white chin. The diet of the Easter coyote is diverse and consists of basically whatever is available to them. They can kill larger animals like elk and deer but mainly catch and kill smaller prey or scavenge for scarps and garbage left by humans. Their largest prey during winter months is the white tailed deer which is plentiful thruought the eastern parts of the continent. Even during spring when white tail deer give birth to fawns, coyotes will take advantage of their vulnerability and make a meal of the newborn babies.
Eastern coyotes are found in almost all parts of the North East and even in big cities like New York. They have been recorded as being first seen in the state of New York in the 1930s. They are thought to be a mix of coyote and wolf, which explains why they are larger in size than the Western coyote. The Eastern coyote has larger and longer legs than the Western.
Western coyotes are the original smaller versions of the Eastern coyote. They typically weigh between 20-40 pounds and have a lighter blonde and red coat of fur. The Western coyote is the more social of the two. With more vast expanses of uninhabited land in the West, Western coyotes do not have to compete for territory and may form small packs.
For Western coyotes, their diet consists of smaller prey such as lizards, rabbits, mice, fruits, and occasionally a larger prey like mule deer or antelope when hunting in packs. The main enemy a coyote has in this area are wolves and humans.
Main Differences Between Eastern and Western Coyotes:
- Eastern coyotes are larger
- Eastern coyotes hunt more white tail deer
- Eastern coyotes are a cross between coyotes and wolves
- Western coyotes travel in packs more than Eastern Coyotes
- Western coyotes originated in the Western parts of North America
- Western coyotes are smaller than the Eastern coyote