Highly adaptable, the clever coyote seemingly lives everywhere. From NYC, to Vail, to LA, this stealthy little canine lurks in the shadows. Coyotes live in all of the lower 48 states, and can often be heard at night, and sometimes during the day, “Yip, Yip, Yowp, Wahoo, Yahoo, hip, hip, Horaaay, yahoooo, wahoo, woooooo.” Sounds like a party with several yippers and howlers in a crazed chorus. Coyotes, however, spend most of their time in silence, and rely on their keen senses to locate food.
Coyotes are opportunistic in their eating habits, and take advantage of whatever comes along in their travels. Some examples are, a coyote’s keen hearing locates a mouse 1-2 feet down in the snow pack, and the coyote digs it up. Or, the coyote’s sense of smell leads it to a deer carcass on the side of the highway, and the coyote helps to keep the roadside tidy. A train wreck once spilled chicken thighs at a remote site; the coyote is right there to pick up the pieces. Litter with lettuce bits and ketchup are indeed a windfall for the coyote. The coyote dwells along side of people, as opportunity lies in the wake of the consumer.
While many other wild mammal populations are declining, it is interesting that coyote populations are rising. It is the very actions of humans that enable the coyotes to expand. Where humans live, the scavengers thrive. Also, more natural food sources are available to the coyote, since grizzly bears and wolves have been killed off over much of the U.S. With some of the major meat eaters removed from the scene, the coyote got a bigger slice of the pie.
A coyote’s color tends to be gray and buffy with reddish highlights. In contrast, a red fox is completely red. If you only catch a quick glimpse, because the animal is on the run, remember that a coyote runs with its tail down, while a fox runs with its tail held straight out.
Weighing between 20-40 lbs, coyotes are small by domestic dog standards. Coyotes have a thick coat of fur, which may make them look large, but coyotes are light, and are able to float on top of the snow. Therefore, they get around well in most winter conditions. Coyotes conserve energy, by walking, and this is reflected in their tracks. They are however capable of bursts of speed, running between 30-40 mph. Coyote tracks look similar to a domestic dog’s, but instead, are neat and tidy. The coyote is always going somewhere, either over the hill, up the valley, or across the mountainside. In comparison, domestic dog tracks often go in circles, with lots of snow thrown about. Coyotes do not attack people, and when encountered will either run away, or sometimes slink away.
I often see coyotes walking in grassy meadows, or in shrub communities, where they are hunting mice, voles, birds, ground squirrels, rabbits, or are seeking out carcasses of dead animals. Coyotes also enjoy various berries. I sometimes see coyotes in the forest, where they hunt snowshoe hare, pine squirrels, and porcupines. A coyote would also gladly bag a beaver that wandered too far from the safety of the stream.
I personally enjoy and respect all wildlife, including coyotes. In the world of nature, an animal must perform tasks efficiently, survive hardships, adapt, or die by the wayside. This harsh reality governs all species, and because coyotes are smart and adaptable little dogs, they are efficient, and in synch with the ever-changing modern world.
Coyotes are here to stay. Where there are humans, there are coyotes. Coyotes scavenge carcasses of dead animals, and we all know that it’s not good to leave rotting flesh around. The coyote is head custodian of the roadsides and the wilderness. Perhaps this little canine, too, deserves a place among man’s best friends.
Tom and Tanya Wiesen are owners of Trailwise Guides; a year-round Vail Valley guide service specializing in hiking, mountain biking, and natural history tours. Daily private tours are available. Contact Trailwise Guides at (970) 827-5363.