Coyote (Canis latrans)
Description and Life History
Coyotes can be difficult to distinguish from a medium sized German shepherd dog from a distance. There is wide variation in the coyote's color, but generally their upper body is yellowish gray, and the fur covering the throat and belly is white to cream color. The coyote's ears are pointed and stand erect, unlike the ears of domestic dogs that often droop. When observed running, coyotes carry their bushy, black tipped tail below the level of their back. Wolves, which are found in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, are larger than coyotes and carry their tail in a horizontal position while running. The size and weight of coyotes are commonly overestimated, because their long fur masks a bone structure that is slighter than that of most domestic dogs.
Coyotes can often live six to eight years in the wild. Various forms of natural mortality include disease, predation, and starvation. However, hunting, trapping, and vehicle collisions are common causes of coyote mortality. Approximately 50 70% of juvenile coyotes do not reach adulthood. Annual adult mortality averages 30 50%. Coyotes can compensate for severe reductions in population numbers by breeding at younger ages and by having larger litters.
Coyotes are opportunistic and will eat almost anything available. Small mammals such as mice, voles, shrews, rabbits, hares, and squirrels are preferred foods. However, insects, fruits, berries, birds, frogs, snakes, plants, and seeds round out their diet. In areas with high deer numbers, carrion resulting from vehicle deer collisions, natural causes, and crippling losses is an important source of food. In urban areas, coyotes are attracted to garbage, garden vegetables, and pet foods. They will also prey on unattended small dogs and cats, if opportunities exist. Some coyotes learn to kill smaller livestock, such as sheep, goats, calves, and poultry. Larger animals are almost always consumed as carrion.
People are most likely to see coyotes during their breeding period, which occurs in Michigan from mid January into March. As fall approaches, pups begin dispersing from the den site to establish home ranges of their own. These young dispersing animals sometimes wander into urban areas. Coyotes are active day and night; however, peaks in activity occur at sunrise and sunset. Coyotes generally feed at night.
Coyotes are found throughout Michigan and have dispersed into southern Michigan without assistance from the DNR. Coyotes are found in rural to urban areas and are quite common but extremely good at remaining unnoticed by humans, even while living in close proximity. Their presence in subdivisions and urban or suburban areas, while surprising to many folks, is a result of increasing populations (both coyote and human) and encroachment of human environments into their natural habitat (from development of rural areas).
This member of the dog family is extremely adaptable and survives in virtually all habitat types common in Michigan. They are most abundant in areas where adequate food, cover, and water are available. The size of a coyote's home range depends on the food and cover resources available and on the number of other coyotes in an area, but it generally averages between 8 and 12 square miles. Mated pairs and 4 to 7 pups occupy the home range during the spring and summer seasons in Michigan.
Coyotes rarely attack humans. Bites from snakes, rodents, and domestic dogs are a far greater possibility than coyote bites, according to public health authorities. However, coyotes that are fed become accustomed to people and present a human safety risk. People should never intentionally feed or attempt to tame coyotes. It is in the best interest of both coyotes and humans if coyotes retain their instinctive fear of people. The following important points can help minimize potential conflicts with coyotes:
- Never approach or touch a coyote
- Never intentionally feed a coyote
- Eliminate all outside food sources, especially pet foods
- Put garbage out the morning of pickup day
- Clear out wood and brush piles; they are good habitat for rats and mice and may attract coyotes
- Good husbandry practices, guard animals, and coyote control measures can help to protect livestock
- Do not allow pets to roam free when coyotes are present - consider keeping pets indoors or accompany them outside, especially at night
The following agencies or businesses can be contacted for advice or assistance if coyote depredation becomes a problem:
Links to Other Sources of Information
Information on urban coyotes:
How to prevent coyote problems:
Coyote biology, habitat, and other information: