The eastern coyote is a relative newcomer to New York state that began to appear in the 1930s.
Early accounts of these animals suggest that many may have been a cross between the coyote (which crossed the frozen St. Lawrence River from Canada) and domestic dogs. These coy-dogs seldom bred successfully in the wild, but once coyote numbers reached densities that allowed successful pairings among themselves, their populations increased. This appears to have started in the 1960s and 1970s in the Adirondacks and other areas along the St. Lawrence River Valley.
The coyotes that filtered down from Canada were larger then the western coyote and are believed to be a hybrid of the western coyote and the wolf. These “brush wolves,” as they were nicknamed, are what we know as the eastern coyote and they are found throughout the state today.
Some large coyotes may go 50 or 60 pounds but the average weight is between 30 and 45 pounds with the males being larger than the females. The color of this animal will range from black to blond but the most common color is a grizzled gray or reddish-gray with light gray or white under parts. Black-tipped hairs on the back and the top of the tail are typical.
The eastern coyote somewhat resembles the German Shepherd except its features are more slender. The snout is long and narrow and the legs are thinner. The 12- to 15-inch tail is bushy and is generally carried in a down position, unlike a wolf’s manner. The large, pointed ears are another prominent feature.
Coyotes are great runners that are able to cruise at 25 to 30 mph and up to 40 mph for short distances. They can broad jump 14 feet and have been known to travel up to 400 miles. Their “hair raising” barks, yelps, yaps and howls are usually heard at dusk and dawn; sometimes a whole family of them joins in. Life expectancy is about 3 or 4 years but they have been known to live for 12 years.
One reason the coyote has made a rapid expansion on most of North America is its ability to adapt its feeding habits to the available food supply. The coyote will eat anything from insects to deer and does not pass up carrion; he even enjoys fruits and berries. Coyotes will sometimes form a pack of three or more animals when the prey is large, for instance, a deer. But his bad habit of preying on domestic animals, such as sheep, small dogs and cats, has not set well with man.
One characteristic that has helped this animal to survive man’s persecution is the ability to increase its reproduction rate when its numbers get low (through hunting and trapping, for example).
Pair bonding and mating take place in January and February and they may pair for several years or life. In March they begin investigating prospective sites for a den, which is usually in the ground in a secluded area. They will have several den sites prepared and will quickly move from one to another if disturbed.
In April, four to six pups are born and will remain at the den for eight to 10 weeks. The female spends considerable time at the den while the male hunts for food. July through September, the pups are left on their own a lot but when the female returns to the site she will announce her arrival with a brief howl. This creates a great commotion among the pups that starts a chorus of barks, howls, yips and yaps that you will never forget if you’re lucky enough to hear it.
Coyotes may be trapped or hunted night or day. The season usually starts in October and runs to the end of March. The two most often used methods to hunt them are calling (making prey sounds like a rabbit squealing) and running them with hounds. Hunting them with hounds is a rough and expensive sport but has the advantage of keeping the coyote distant of humans and their domestic animals.
The coyote is here to stay and no matter how much pressure is put on them, they always seem to survive. There is concern about the damage they do to nesting turkeys, but raccoon and other small mammals cause problems there, too. However, there is more concern about the damage that coyotes do to fawns. This may not be all bad, though, as deer populations expand even more when land becomes less available to hunters and trappers. The coyote may thus become a big factor in controlling the higher deer populations and problems they will cause in the future.
Doug Domedion, outdoorsman and nature photographer, resides in Medina. Contact him at (585) 798-4022 or email@example.com .