Most of the time, coyotes are usually spotted in the low light hours of sunset and dawn, wandering around stealthily by themselves. If they’re not alone, they can be found roaming for food in their territory in pairs. During night time hours they can be heard howling and yipping into the night. If you have ever heard this eerie sound you might swear that what you were hearing was a large pack of wolves or coyotes with at least 15 or 20 separate members calling to each other or taking down prey.
Coyotes do in fact live in packs, much like their wolf relative. However, their packs are much smaller and for the most part only include family members. At the head of the family pack you have the alpha female who will do the breeding and is considered to be most important. Paired with the alpha female is the alpha male who will be her lifelong mate. After breeding, their off spring will become members of their pack, or family group. Coyote packs will sometime be comprised of the direct off spring from that particular year and possibly off spring from past years. Coyotes typically produce 2-12 pups per litter with an average of 6 pups per litter. The gestation period is approximately 60 days. The litter size will be determined on how much and what type of food is readily available in the area for the coyotes.
Depending on how many pups the alpha female produces, a typically pack size will range from 3 – 10 coyotes. The alpha male coyote does not enter the den when the alpha female is inside giving birth to her pups. He will bring food and leave it outside the den until she is ready to leave the den and hunt for herself. Both the alpha male and alpha female will watch over their pups and raise them until they become adult members of the family group.
The family group may also take in loner beta males or non-breeding females that have left their packs in search of better opportunity. These coyotes will not remain with the family group forever and are only temporary members of the pack. They will not breed unless they become alpha of the pack.
Hunters and Scavengers
Coyotes do not hunt the same way wolves hunt. Resembling domestic dogs in size, coyotes do not have the ability to take down very large prey on their own. Their diet usually consists of smaller animals they can catch and kill on their own such as mice, birds, small reptiles, and small animals. They are omnivores so they will also eat plants and fruits as well as scavenge for garbage and pet food in more urbanized areas.
When have been known to hunt larger prey such as white tail deer and antelope by hunting in pairs or larger parts of a pack. This is one of the pack benefits for the coyote. Alone they would not be able to take down a larger animal by themselves. One of the biggest reason for the bad reputation the coyote has is the coyote’s ability to destroy livestock, especially when hunting in packs. Because of this destruction, many farmers and ranchers try hunting and trapping as a way of reducing the coyote population. The problem with that method is that even if those coyotes are killed, that will leave more food sources available for others coyotes. This newly available food source can increase litter sizes in the alpha female, and the coyote pack will regenerate in size.