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What Time is it in Nature: Coyote

February 7, 2014

Coyote, Canis latrans

While it’s not all that common to see large mammals at Prairie Ridge during our open hours, there are several species that use our grounds on a regular basis.  One species has been picked up on our camera traps a lot recently, the Coyote (Canis latrans), so we know they’ve been active in the area frequently over the last few months.


Coyotes are canines that are found throughout North America.  There is regional variation among the many different subspecies of Coyotes, but overall they tend to have greyish-brown or yellowish-grey fur on top and white or off-white fur on the belly.  There are black markings pointing along the back at the shoulder, a black line down the back, and a black tip of the bushy tail as well.  Coyotes have long, pointed snouts and relatively large ears.  They also have fairly narrow legs and unusually small feet relative to their size.  The Coyotes in our area reach over 3 feet long and stand about 2 feet at the shoulder.

While sometimes listed as carnivores, Coyotes are really omnivores, feeding on a wide variety of foods.  Their primary diet consists of small mammals, such as rodents and rabbits, and though they prefer their meat fresh, they will eat carrion occasionally.  Coyotes are also known to eat larger animals such as deer, small animals such as insects, and birds when they can catch them.  During the summer and fall, fruits become an important part of the diet and you can occasionally spot a Coyote rummaging through human trash for leftovers.  Coyotes have adapted to life in urban areas far better than most other canine species, and their dietary flexibility is often cited as a reason Coyotes have learned to coexist with humans so well.  The Coyote’s range has actually increased with increasing urbanization rather than decreasing as seen in most other North American canine species.

Many people are familiar with the iconic Coyote call, a series of howls, yips, and barks that are most often heard after dusk.  These calls allow Coyotes to communicate with one another over large distances and aid in maintaining territories, finding mates, or calling packs together.  Coyotes will call throughout the year, but are more likely to call during the late winter/early spring mating season and when the pups begin to look for new territories after leaving home in the fall.

We know we’ve had at least two Coyotes on the Prairie Ridge grounds over the past few months, so there’s always a chance you’ll see one on your next visit.  Next time you come out, look for large, greyish dogs near the tree line by the parking lot or along the fence that parallels Edwards Mill Road.  You never know when you might spot a Coyote!

What Time is it in Nature is a weekly feature highlighting the current plants, animals, and other wildlife at the Musuem’s public outdoor facility, Prairie Ridge Ecostation.  Find out more about the natural happenings at Prairie Ridge at our What Time is it in Nature Archive!

(Photos from the Prairie Ridge eMammal camera trap project)

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