Don’t believe all the myths about coyotes

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There’s more to coyote lore than meets the eye.

To be sure, they are secretive and naturally seldom seen, and to the untrained eye, they appear to be as large or larger than a fully grown gray wolf.

But to those hunters and trappers who physically handle coyotes, on average, an Ohio adult coyote is more likely to weigh in at 30 pounds or so, even smaller than your neighbor’s collie.

Compared to a Labrador retriever at 70 pounds or more, most coyotes are relatively small in actual body size, but big in fur and even bigger in appetite. Of course, older male coyotes, especially alpha males can be larger.

Not picky eaters. Coyotes are primarily predators, but they don’t depend on a steady diet of puppies, cats, rabbits, and deer. Far from it.

Coyotes are not that picky

They will eat just about anything, including grass, fruits and road kill. In more urban areas, they’ll also enjoy a nip of dog food.

According to those who actually study coyote poop, called scat, the fact that piles of scat often contain deer hair doesn’t mean it is from a recent kill, but just as likely to be from a road kill carcass.

That’s debatable since an abundance of coyotes seems to correlate with a decrease in deer numbers. And certainly coyotes kill a significant number of newborn fawns in late May and early June when deer are birthing and coyotes are especially busy on the hunt to feed their litters.

Breeding

Coyotes breed during the late winter, most often during February and March. Like all members of the rather extensive canine family, coyotes will whelp, or deliver, their puppies in 63 days, give or take a day.

The alpha male of the family group does the breeding, that’s just the way it works in coyote culture. The alpha male is pretty much in charge of everything as long as the head female agrees. Go figure.

Prior to the breeding season, surviving males of the previous spring’s litter have been forcibly sent on their way. These disbursing yearly males will travel for miles, sometimes as far as 100 miles, in search of a partner, friendly pack, or a new home of sorts. This disbursement prevents inbreeding.

Litter sizes

It’s most interesting to look at the number of pups born each year. The size of the littler is closely related to several factors.

The availability of food sources is a key because the number of coyotes earning a living in a certain area is reflective. More coyotes mean less food, so typically smaller litters are born. Less coyotes mean more food and the response is larger litters born.

It’s not quite that simplistic, but it is nature’s way of balancing litter size, which can range from one to 12 and the underlying reason hunters and trappers can’t truly eliminate coyotes in any given area.

Coyotes are monogamous but only until one of the pair is killed or somehow removed from the family unit. If that occurs, new relationships are formed.

Rare to mate with dog

Although coydogs, can and do exist (the cross between a male coyote and female domestic dog), it is highly unnatural and quite rare.

Probably, suggest experts, it can happen when a disbursed male runs into a female dog in heat. It’s more likely, they say, the coyote would have the dog for lunch.

Where studies have been done to estimate the population of coydogs in a region, the number is less than 2 percent of the true coyote population.

There is solid evidence that coyotes can and occasionally do inter-breed with wolves of which there none in the wild in Ohio.

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Mike Tontimonia has been writing weekly columns and magazine features about the outdoors for over 25 years, a career that continues to hold the same excitement for him as it did at the beginning. Mike is a retired educator, a licensed auctioneer and marketing consultant. He lives in Ravenna, Ohio and enjoys spending time at his Carroll County cabin. Mike has hunted and fished in several states and Canada from the Carolinas to Alaska and from Idaho to Delaware. His readers have often commented that the stories about his adventures are about as close to being there as possible. He is past president of the Outdoor Writers of Ohio and a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. Mike is also very involved in his community as a school board member and a Rotarian.

1 COMMENT

  1. Thanks, Mike, for this article.

    “Coyotes are monogamous…”

    maybe humans can learn something from the ‘yotes after all!

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