Understanding Coyotes – Coyote Habits

To understand coyote habits you must look at where the coyote has been and where they are now.  The coyote is a native medium sized canid to North America and was originally found in the Great Plains area.  With early settlers moving west, they inadvertently helped the coyote expand their territory by killing off wolves and bears from much of their native areas.  By reducing the coyotes natural predators– wolves, bears and mountain lions- the coyote was able to spread across much of the continent into almost all U.S. states, and into parts of Canada and Mexico.  The adaptive nature of the coyote has made him an excellent survivor in all of these regions.

Pack Behavior

Coyotes are crepuscular animals, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk.  When they reside closer to humans, they will tend to be more nocturnal.  In areas with little or no human activity, coyotes will be more active and hunt during the day or anytime when they can find prey available.

Coyote territories are an important part of coyote behavior and habits.  A pack of coyotes lead by an alpha female and alpha male will stake out their territory which can consist of a few acres or a few miles, largely dependent on available food source and coyote populations in the vicinity.  In more urbanized areas, coyote territories will be smaller than territories in open plain and mountainous regions.  Coyotes are much like dogs in that they will mark their territory or home range with urine and sometime will even mark their most important territory with scat.  They are very vocal animals that will use howls and yips to alert their pack mates of their location and warn other coyotes of territory boundaries.

There are two types of coyotes in regards to their territory- a resident and a transient coyote.  Resident coyotes live within a certain home range territory with their pack.  These resident coyotes are typically the alpha pair along with their offspring of the season and offspring of previous seasons.  Transient coyotes are the loners of the coyote world.  These coyotes are usually recently matured coyote yearlings that were kicked out of their pack by the alpha male to find their own territory and breed, or old and sick coyotes that were forced to leave their pack.  The transient coyotes that do not get accepted into a new pack will spend their days on the outskirts of other coyote territories to avoid attacks.

Hunting Habits

Coyotes are opportunistic animals, making the most of their habitat and circumstances.  Coyotes are quick and agile hunters, able to run up to 40 miles per hour to take down their prey.  They are also very good swimmers, so fish is definitely on the menu.

They can form different strategies for hunting different types of prey.  If the coyote is after smaller easier to catch prey like a field mouse or rabbit then they will hunt alone.  Even though they are smaller in size than a wolf, coyotes are fierce hunters when working together in packs.  They have the ability to take down full grown deer and even caribou.

Another hunting habit of coyotes that have a range closer to humans include preying on livestock and pets.  Once a coyote learns the location of easy to kill livestock, they will keep coming back to claim a meal until they are killed themselves.  They will even use this as an opportunity to teach their pups how to hunt since they know that the livestock will generally be in the same location every time.


Coyotes remain active all throughout the year, with peak activity begging during the breeding season in late December.  During this time they can be spotted during daylight hours more than any other time of the year and will often be seen trotting down trails or roadways in search of available female coyotes to breed.

During the 3-4 month breeding season, the alpha female and alpha male coyote will remain together until they successfully breed.  The female coyote will find herself a den, usually taking over another animal’s den, and will remain there until several weeks after her pups are born.  The alpha male coyote will continue hunting and providing food for the female.  When the pups are born he will continue bringing food to the den for the female and pups to eat.

Once the pups are fully grown after about nine months, the females may stay with the pack while the male coyotes will be forced away by the alpha male to find their own territory.  They will then become transient coyotes until they find a mate and stake out their own territory.