Learn about North America’s “Song Dog”
EMPOWER YOURSELF WITH SCIENCE-BASED INFORMATION
The coyote, our unique Song Dog who has existed in North America since the Pleistocene, is the most persecuted native carnivore in North America. The coyote is the flagship species for all misunderstood and exploited carnivores. Poisoned, trapped, aerial gunned and killed for bounties and in contests, an estimated half a million coyotes are slaughtered every year in the U.S. — one per minute.
Maligning stereotypes and fallacies follow the coyote wherever she goes. Unlike many predators who face extinction, coyotes continue to survive and thrive in the face of persecution. Their survival is attributed to their intelligence, adaptability, and resilience, traits many Native Americans revered in the coyote as the creator, trickster and ancestor.
A vital part of both our rural and urban landscapes, the coyote’s ability to adjust to changing conditions and diverse environments sets her apart and makes the coyote so difficult to pigeonhole, perhaps further contributing to people’s fear and misunderstanding.
In her intelligence and adaptability, the coyote teaches us about our own capacity to evolve and coexist in the face of rapid ecological and social change. By helping to shift attitudes toward coyotes and other native carnivores, we replace fear and ignorance with understanding and appreciation.
As the only organization whose mission is to foster coexistence between people and carnivores and compassionate conservation through education, science and advocacy, Project Coyote builds a critical bridge between wildlife conservation and animal welfare/protection, bringing the best science and ethics to our advocacy on behalf of coyotes and other native carnivores.
USDA 2014 COYOTE KILLS BY METHOD (MORE THAN 76,611 INDIVIDUAL KILLS)
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services accounts for over 76,000 of the estimated 500,000 coyotes that are killed each year. As shown below, most are killed for sport or fun. Many states allow unlimited killing of coyotes including the following practices:
- Bounties (starting at as little as $1 for each animal killed)
- Poisoning (using Compound 1080 and Sodium Cyanide M-44s)
- Aerial gunning (shooting animals from low-flying aircraft on private and public lands)
- Leghold trapping (which are nonselective and often injury non-target species)
- Snaring (a lethal wire intended to catch and strangle a coyote to death)
- Calling & shooting (distress calls of wounded young or prey are used to lure coyotes in to point blank range where they are then shot)
- Hound hunting (pursued by hounds and torn apart)
- Killing contests, derbies or tournaments (where awards are given for those who kill the most and largest animals)
- Denning (the killing of coyote pups in their dens)
The coyote represents a more primitive form of Canis than the gray wolf, as shown by its relatively small size and its comparatively narrow skull and jaws, which lack the grasping power necessary to hold the large prey wolves specialize in. It is not as specialized a carnivore as the wolf is, as shown by the larger chewing surfaces on the molars, reflecting the species’ relative dependence on vegetable matter. In these respects, the coyote resembles the fox-like progenitors of the genus more so than the wolf. (Nowak, 1978) The evolution of the coyote can be traced back to an extinct type of small omnivorous fox-like canid endemic to North America 10.3—3.6 million years ago. (Kurten, 1980)
Modern coyotes arose during the Middle Pleistocene, and showed much more variation than they do today. (Nowak, 1978) They were larger and more robust, likely in response to larger competitors and prey. (Meachen, J. A.; Samuels, J. X., 2012)
Their reduction in size occurred after an extinction event, when their large prey died. (Meachen, J. A.; Samuels, J. X., 2012) Furthermore, Pleistocene coyotes were unable to exploit the big game hunting niche left vacant after the extinction of the dire wolf, as it was rapidly filled by gray wolves, which likely actively killed off the large coyotes. (Meachen, J. A. et al, 2014)
At least 19 subspecies of coyote roam North and Central America, from California to Newfoundland and Alaska to Panama, occupying a broad range of habitats. Coyotes play an important ecological role helping to maintain healthy ecosystems and species diversity. As the top carnivore in some ecosystems, coyotes provide a number of benefits including regulating the number of mesocarnivores (such as skunks, raccoons, and foxes) which in turn, helps to boost biodiversity.
Western coyotes typically weigh 18 to 30 pounds and look similar to a small Shepherd or collie-type dog but have longer, denser fur and pointed, erect ears. Coyotes have a long, bushy, black-tipped tail that is usually carried pointed down. Their eastern counterparts may be larger, averaging 35-55 pounds, which is believed to be a result of interbreeding with wolves 50-70 years ago. Coyotes are usually grayish brown with reddish tinges behind the ears and around the face, but coloration can vary from silver-gray to black.
In rural habitats, coyotes hunt by day and night. In urban areas, coyotes appear to be more nocturnal but can often be seen during daylight hours, especially at dawn and dusk. They communicate by vocalizing, scent marking and through a variety of body displays.
It is common to hear them howling and yipping at night, or even during the day in response to sirens and other loud noises. Indeed, the coyote’s scientific name is Canis latrans which means “barking dog.” With approximately a dozen different vocalizations, it is common to mistake a few coyotes communicating with each other for a large group. Coyotes are fast and agile; they can run at speeds of 25-40 mph (65 km/h) and jump 6 feet. Coyotes are also highly intelligent and social animals; they learn quickly and are devoted parents.
Coyotes eat a wide variety of food, and like most animals, prefer food that is easiest to obtain. They are true omnivores, and will eat a wide variety of foods, including rodents, rabbits, insects, lizards, snakes, vegetables, and fruits. They will also take advantage of unsecured garbage and pet food left outdoors. As scavengers, they provide an ecological service by helping to keep our communities clean of carrion. In suburbia, coyotes have been known to take smaller pets if left unprotected. Animal guardians are advised to keep cats indoors, and dogs under control during the day and indoors at night.
When coyotes live close to human populations, conflicts — often driven by fears of predation on domestic animals — may arise, and most conflicts continue to result in de-facto killing of coyotes (Fox and Papouchis, 2005; Fox, 2006). However, despite decades of poisoning, trapping, and shooting, coyotes persist in North America today and conflicts with people continue. The fact is that two hundred years of costly persecution have not eliminated the resilient coyote, but raise significant animal welfare issues (Alexander, 2015).
Why is killing ineffective and ecologically disruptive? The coyote’s remarkable success appears to be closely related to human attempts to control the animal’s population. As with other carnivore species, coyote populations are naturally regulated by available food and habitat. Lethal control, however, can disrupt the group hierarchy, allowing more coyotes to reproduce, encouraging larger litter sizes because of decreased competition for food and habitat, and increasing pup survival rates (Crabtree and Sheldon 1999). It is also likely that lethal control favors the survival of the most resilient and genetically robust coyotes (Crabtree and Sheldon 1999). More critically, with the disruption of pack structure, training across generations of coyotes that promotes consumption of wild prey can be compromised and increase killing of livestock and pets (Crabtree and Sheldon, 1999; Mitchel et al, 2004).
Despite the ineffectiveness and destructiveness of lethal approaches, at least half a million coyotes are killed every year in the U.S — one per minute — by federal, state and local governments as well as private individuals (Fox and Papouchis 2005). Most of this killing is carried out in the name of “livestock protection” at the behest of agribusiness and private ranchers. U.S taxpayers subsidize this predator carnage at the cost of 100 million dollars annually. (Read more about the USDA’s Wildlife Services program here or download our factsheet here.)
Indiscriminate lethal control in the name of management persists, despite scientific evidence that this approach has significant negative ecological and welfare implications and is ultimately economically ineffective (Fox 2006).
Coyotes are also killed for their fur, for “sport,” for fun, for hate, and in “body-count” contests where prizes are awarded for killing the most coyotes. Most states set no limit on the number of coyotes who may be killed, nor do they regulate the killing methods. While killing coyotes en mass or relocating individual coyotes can reduce their population in the very short term, it is not recommended for clear and important reasons described above. Project Coyote implements a number of programs that demonstrate how to peacefully coexist with coyotes and other wildlife in both urban and rural communities. You can download additional information about coexisting with coyotes here, including tips for keeping pets and livestock safe.
Adaptable to diverse environments, coyotes provide the following ecological benefits:
Coyotes limit mesocarnivore populations and increase bird diversity and abundance (Crooks and Soule 1999). Mesocarnivores such as skunks, raccoons, and foxes as well as feral cats can have a destructive impact on bird populations by raiding nests, etc. While coyotes can coexist with these species, studies indicate that coyotes limit mesocarnivore populations largely through competitive exclusion, thereby having a positive impact on ground-nesting birds and songbird diversity and abundance.
Coyotes keep rodent and rabbit populations in check.
Rodents and lagomorphs (rabbits and hares) are important food items for coyotes, often making up more than half of the dry weight of prey items found in scats (Fedriani et al., 2001; Morey et al., 2007). This however varies regionally, seasonally, and by level of urbanization – all of which affect the availability of rodents and lagomorphs as prey items. Laundré and Hernandez (2003) estimated 162 – 192 lagomorphs or 3110 – 3681 rodents per year are needed to fulfill metabolic needs (more if breeding/lactation was accounted for) for coyotes in the Great Basin Desert – and that therefore lagomorphs were a better energy return on hunting investment.
Thus, coyotes provide benefits to both urban and rural communities by keeping rodent and lagomorph populations in check. City dwellers enjoy cleaner environments (and avoid having to use rat poisons that can impact non-target animals). Ranchers benefit from coyotes controlling micro-herbivores (such as rabbits and gophers) that otherwise compete with their grazing animals for food. Farmers also suffer less crop loss or damage when coyotes naturally control rodent populations.
Coyotes help control disease transmission. Coyotes provide an invaluable public health service by helping to control rodents, thus reducing the spread of rodent-born zoonotic diseases such as plague and hantavirus (Watts et al, 2014).
Coyotes clean up the environment. As scavengers, coyotes provide an ecological service by helping to keep our communities clean of carrion (dead things).
TIPS AND TOOLS FOR COEXISTENCE
Urban and rural residential landscapes offer an abundance of food, water, and shelter for coyotes. Take the following steps to prevent coyotes from being attracted to your home.
• Wildlife-proof garbage in sturdy containers with tight fitting lids.
• Don’t leave pet food outside.
• Take out trash the morning pick up is scheduled.
• Keep compost in secure containers.
• Keep fallen fruit off the ground. Coyotes eat fruit.
• Keep birdseed off the ground; seeds attract rodents which then attract coyotes. Remove feeders if coyotes are seen in your yard.
• Keep barbecue grills clean.
• Eliminate accessible water sources.
• Clear away brush and dense weeds near buildings.
• Close off crawl spaces under decks and around buildings where coyotes may den.
• If you frequently see a coyote in your yard, make loud noises with pots, pans, or air horns, and haze the coyote with a water hose.
• Share this list with your neighbors; coexistence is a neighborhood effort.
Discover how to coexist with coyotes here.
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Written by Project Coyote