Coyotes

An Estimated 12,000 + Coyotes Live in Maine - Photo by: Ty Smedes

Figure 1: Photo Credit - Ty Smedes

Overview

The coyote (Canis latrans) expanded its range north and east into Maine in the 1930s, slipping into the niche that wolves once occupied as largest canine predator. These intelligent and adaptable animals now occupy almost every conceivable habitat type, from open agricultural country to dense forest to downtown urban areas. Despite ever continued human encroachment and efforts to eliminate coyotes, the species has maintained its numbers. The coyote's tenacity tries the patience of some and the admiration of others.

Coyotes are medium in size. They have pointed muzzles and long, brushy tails. Their coats are usually a mixture of tan, black and gray, but can range from black to strawberry blond. The average adult coyote weighs 30 to 35 pounds, with males being heavier than females. Large males only rarely will exceed 45 pounds.

Biologists estimate that at least 12,000 coyotes are living in Maine.

Facts about Maine Coyotes

Food and Feeding Behavior

  • Coyotes are opportunists, both as hunters and as scavengers. They eat small animals, including snowshoe hare, mice, rats, woodchucks, beavers, squirrels, snakes, frogs, fish, birds and carrion (animal carcasses). During summer and fall, they also eat grass, fruits and berries. They may also eat pet food, garbage, garden crops, livestock and poultry.
  • Most hunting activity takes place at night. Undisturbed, hungry coyotes may hunt during daylight hours, and sometimes follow farm machinery, catching voles and other small prey.
  • In winter, when snow depth restricts the movements of deer, these animals may become a larger part of a coyote's diet. Pairs of coyotes or family groups, using the relay method, pursue small deer. In the spring and summer coyotes may target deer, fawns and small mammals.

Den Sites

  • The female coyote digs her own den under an uprooted tree, log or thicket. Or, she may use a cave, hollow log, or storm drain, or take over and enlarge another mammal's burrow.
  • The den typically has an entrance one to two feet across, a main chamber five to 15 feet long, and a terminal chamber.
  • Coyotes usually have several dens and move from one to the other, minimizing the risk that a den containing young will be detected. These moves also help to prevent an accumulation of fleas and other parasites, urine, droppings and food refuse.
  • Coyotes may use the same dens year after year or make new dens in the same area.

Reproduction and Family Structure

  • A mated pair of coyotes will live, hunt and raise pups together for many years, sometimes for life.
  • Breeding occurs in late January and February. After a gestation (pregnancy) of 63 days, the female gives birth to an average of four pups from late March through May. Population density and the availability of food can affect the litter size.
  • Both parents care for the young. Occasionally, nonbreeding siblings will assist.
  • Pups emerge from the den in two to three weeks and begin to eat regurgitated food. Conflicts between humans and coyotes may occur at this time because the need for food increases dramatically.
  • By six months of age, pups have permanent teeth and are nearly fully grown. At this time, female coyotes train their offspring to search for food, so it is not unusual to observe a family group.
  • Juvenile coyotes usually disperse alone or sometimes in groups at six to eight months of age. A few may stay nearby, while others seek new territory up to fifty miles away. The more food available in a given area, the closer the juveniles will stay to their den.
  • Although such crosses are rare, it is possible for coyotes to breed with domestic dogs.

Mortality and Longevity

  • Coyote numbers are controlled by social interactions and competition for food. They are territorial and aggressively defend their territories against other coyotes. Therefore, only a limited number of coyotes can live in a given area.
  • The main predators of coyotes are humans. Coyotes may occasionally kill another coyote or its pups.
  • Hunting and trapping reduce the overall population and thus competition among the animals. Because pup survival increases as competition decreases, hunting and trapping can enhance pup survival.
  • Coyotes in captivity may live as long as 18 years. In the wild, few coyotes live more than four years; the majority of pups die during their first year.

Aggression

  • Coyotes occasionally kill domestic cats, dogs and other wild predators that might compete with them for food. Coyotes are protective of their young and will attack dogs that get too close to their den and pups.

Note: Although people often blame coyotes when a pet goes missing or is found dead, many other animals – including dogs cats, bears, fishers, bobcats and foxes – could be responsible, as well as vehicles, disease, weather or even furious neighbors.

  • To date, there have been no documented coyote attacks on humans in Maine. There are documented cases in other states. Often the animals responsible had become accustomed to the presence of people, were fed, and/or were targeting dogs that accompanied people. A Wildlife Extension Specialist at the University of California studied southern California – the West's most densely populated area – and found that from 1988 to 1997 there were 53 coyote attacks on humans resulting in 21 injuries.

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Viewing Coyotes

Coyotes are extremely wary. Their sense of smell is remarkable, and their senses of sight and hearing are exceptionally well developed.

You are most likely to see coyotes during the hours just after sunset and before sunrise. Go to a well-used game trail and wait patiently from an overlook. A coyote will often come down the trail the same time every morning or evening. Or, you can watch where a coyote is likely to feed, such as the area around livestock or a big game carcass.

Never approach an occupied coyote den. A mother's protective instincts can make her dangerous if she has young in or nearby the den. Observe den sites and coyotes with binoculars or a spotting scope; you should be far enough away that you do not visibly disturb the animals. Unfamiliar or new human activity close to the den, especially within a quarter of a mile, will often cause coyotes to move, particularly if the pups are older, if the adults see you, or if the den is in an open area with little protective cover.

Figure 2

Tracks and Trails

Look for coyote tracks in mud, sand, dust or snow. Their trails are often found along shallow gullies, fence lines, waterways, game and livestock trails, on or near roads and on ridge tops.

Coyote prints are more oblong-shaped than dog prints (Fig. 2). The normal print is about two inches wide and two and a half inches long, with the hind print slightly smaller than the front. The two front toenails nearly always leave imprints.

An Estimated 12,000 + Coyotes Live in Maine - Photo by: Russel Link

Figure 3a: Photo Credit - Russell Link

Coyote droppings are extremely variable in size, shape and composition - Photo by: Russel Link

Figure 3b: Photo Credit - Russell Link

Droppings

Coyote droppings are found in conspicuous places and on or near their trails. The droppings are extremely variable in size, shape and composition, depending on the animal's diet at the time. Individual droppings average three to four inches long with a diameter of one inch. Droppings consisting of a lot of hair may be larger. The residue from pure meat and entrails is likely to be black and semiliquid. When the animal has been eating chokecherries, apples, blackberries, huckleberries, elderberries, or other fruit, the droppings tend to crumble and contain a significant amount of seeds.

Coyote droppings are extremely variable in size, shape and composition (Figs. 3a,3b).

Other Signs

  • When a coyote feeds on small mammals such as a rabbit, it eats the head, feet, and hide along with the legs and body, leaving a scattering of fur at the site.
  • You may find bones, feathers and fur immediately outside the entrance to a den. Signs of digging occur where coyotes follow promising scents and excavate prey, including moles, voles, and woodchucks, or where they make failed attempts at excavating a den.
  • When a tree falls across a trail, coyotes have to either go over or under it, depending on their size and the height of the fallen tree. Those that go over tend to rub the bark off the top of the log; those that go under sometimes leave hair on the underside. Also look for coyote hairs on a wire fence where a trail runs next to or under the fence.
Juvenile coyotes are often heard in summer - Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Figure 4: Photo Credit - WDIFW

Calls

Coyotes have a variety of vocalizations to communicate with each other. To signal threat and alarm, they use woofs and growls for short distances and barks and bark-howls for long distances. They use whines in greetings. They howl individually and in a group to tell separated group members that they have found food. They often utter a yip-howl when a group reunites. During the summer, juvenile coyotes learn these calls and can be heard trying out their voices. (Fig. 4)

Juvenile coyotes are often heard in summer, trying out their voices. (Fig 4)

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Preventing Conflicts

Research suggests that humans create the conditions for conflict by deliberately or inadvertently providing the animals with food (such as carcasses of farm animals) or handouts, prompting young coyotes to quickly lose their fear of people. Coyotes will also become dependent on the easy food source humans have come to represent. Once a coyote loses its fear and stops hunting, it may become dangerous and attack without warning.

Dealing with coyotes begins with prevention. Once an animal causes damage, it may become easier to do it again.

Use the following management strategies around your property and, if possible, encourage your neighbors to do the same.

Don't leave small children unattended in areas where you or others have frequently seen or heard coyotes.

If there are coyote sightings, prepare your children for a possible encounter. Explain that coyotes live in the area because it is their natural habitat, there is food available, and they are adaptable animals. Say that if a coyote should approach, they should not run but be as big, mean, and loud as possible. Tell them to shout, "Go away coyote!" (or some similar phrase) rather than merely scream, which conveys no information to a nearby adult. Demonstrate and have the children rehearse this behavior.

Modify the landscape around children's play areas.

Prune shrubs and trees several feet above ground level so coyotes cannot hide in them. Keep deterrents nearby in times of increased sightings. Keep an old hockey stick, a broom, or a pile of stones near the play area to help prepare children for an encounter and to remind them of effective encounter behavior.

Never feed coyotes.

If fed, coyotes can lose their fear of humans and develop a territorial attitude that may lead to aggressive behavior. Try to educate your friends and neighbors about the problems associated with feeding wild animals. If you belong to a homeowner's association or neighborhood watch, bring up the subject during one of the meetings.

Don't give coyotes access to garbage.

Keep garbage can lids on tight by securing them with rope, chain, bungee cords or weights, or purchase quality garbage cans with clamps or other mechanisms that hold lids on. To prevent tipping, secure the side handles to metal or wooden stakes driven into the ground. Keep your cans in tight-fitting bins, a shed or a garage.

Prevent access to fruit and compost.

Keep fruit trees fenced and pick up fruit that falls to the ground. Securely cover compost piles and maintain them within a fenced area. Cover new compost material with soil or lime to prevent it from smelling. Never include animal matter in your compost, as it attracts wild animals.

Feed dogs and cats indoors.

If you must feed your pets outside, do so in the morning or at midday, and pick up food, water bowls, leftovers and spilled food well before dark.

Do not feed feral cats (domestic cats gone wild). Coyotes prey on these cats as well as any food you leave for them.

Keep dogs and cats indoors, especially from dusk to dawn.

Because they have been raised by humans, pets are not prepared to fend for themselves against predators. If you leave cats and small to mid-size dogs outside at night in an unprotected area, they can easily become prey. If you do lose a dog or cat to a coyote, notify your neighbors, because once a coyote finds easy prey it may continue to hunt in the area.

Prevent the buildup of food under bird feeders.

Coyotes will eat bird food and are attracted to the many birds and rodents that come to feeders.

Figure 5: Drawing Credit - Jenifer Rees

Build a coyote-proof fence.

Coyotes don't leap fences in a single bound but, like domestic dogs, grip the top with their front paws and kick themselves upward and over with their back legs. The tendency to climb will depend on the individual animal and its motivation. A five-foot woven-wire fence with extenders facing outward at the top of each post should prevent coyotes from climbing into the area to be protected. Coyotes are excellent diggers, however, and an effective fence needs to extend at least eight inches below the surface or have a galvanized-wire apron that extends out from the fence at least 15 inches. (Fig. 5)

Fence extensions are required to keep coyotes from jumping over a five-foot fence. Angle the top of a woven-wire fence out about 15 inches and completely around the fence. An effective fence extends below the surface or has a wire apron in front of it to prevent digging.

Electric fences can also keep coyotes out of an enclosed area. (Figs. 6 and 7) This type of fence doesn't need to be as high as a woven-wire fence because a coyote's first instinct will be to pass through the wires instead of jumping over them. If the bottom wire is electrified, coyotes don't usually dig under it.

Juvenile coyotes are often heard in summer - Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Figure 6: Drawing Credit - Jenifer Rees

Figure 7: Drawing Credit - Jenifer Rees

A six-wire electric fence can keep coyotes out of an enclosed area. (Fig. 6)

Two electrified wires, eight and 15 inches above ground, respectively, and offset from an existing wood fence by 12 inches will prevent coyotes from accessing the fence. A single strand may be sufficient, but two electrified wires will provide added insurance. (Fig. 7)

The Coyote Roller™ prevents coyotes from being able to get foothold - Courtesy of Coyote Roller™ Figure 8: Drawing Credit - The Coyote Roller™

Alternatively, install a commercial device, such as the Coyote Roller™ , to prevent coyotes from being able to get the foothold necessary to hoist themselves over a fence. (Fig. 8) (See "Internet Resources" for additional Information)

The Coyote Roller™ prevents coyotes from being able to get the foothold necessary to hoist themselves over a fence. (Fig. 8)

Enclose poultry (chickens, ducks and turkeys) in a secure outdoor pen and house. If poultry and eggs are available, coyotes may eat them. (Note: Foxes, skunks, raccoons, feral cats, dogs, bobcats, opossums, weasels, hawks and owls also kill poultry) You can:

  • Equip poultry houses with well-fitted doors and secure locking mechanisms.
  • Stake the bottom of the fence flush to the ground, or line the bottom of the fence with bricks, fence posts, or similar items. For ways to prevent coyotes from digging under a fence or structure see Figure 9.
  • Completely enclose outdoor pens with one-inch chicken wire placed over a sturdy wooden framework.
Installing barriers to prevent coyotes from digging - By: Jenifer Rees

Figure 9a: Drawing Credit - Jenifer Rees

Installing barriers to prevent coyotes from digging - By: Jenifer Rees

Figure 9b: Drawing Credit - Jenifer Rees

Installing barriers to prevent coyotes from digging - By: Jenifer Rees

Figure 9c: Drawing Credit - Jenifer Rees

Various ways to install a barrier to prevent coyotes from digging under chicken coops and similar places. To add to the life of the barrier, spray on two coats of rustproof paint before installation. Always check for utility lines before digging in an area. (Fig. 9)

Keep livestock and small animals that live outdoors confined in secure pens during periods of vulnerability.

All animals should be confined from dusk to dawn. Temporary or portable fencing keeps livestock together so that they can be guarded more effectively. During birthing season, keep young and vulnerable animals confined at all times. Do not use remote pastures or holding areas, especially if there has been a recent coyote attack. Remove any sick and injured animals immediately. Ensure that young animals have a healthy diet so that they are strong and less vulnerable to predators.

Livestock producers have discovered that scare devices, such as motion detectors, radios, and other noise makers, will deter coyotes – until the animals realize that they are not dangerous.

Note: Educated farmers attempt to kill coyotes only when damage has occurred. If your property is home to coyotes that have not harmed livestock or pets, it is wise to keep them alive as they will keep away other coyotes that are potential livestock killers. Coyotes also benefit farmers and other property owners by helping control populations of mice, rats, voles, moles, and woodchucks.

Remove or bury dead livestock.

Coyotes, with their keen sense of smell, quickly find dead animals. Cover the carcass with a minimum of two feet of soil or place it in an incinerator.

If you have a lot of property with livestock, consider using a guard animal.

There are specialty breeds of dogs that can defend livestock. Donkeys and llamas have also successfully been used as guard animals. As with any guard animal, pros and cons exist. Purchase a guard animal from a reputable breeder. Some breeders offer various guarantees on their guard animals, including a replacement if an animal fails to perform as expected.

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Lethal Control

If all efforts to discourage a problem coyote fail and it continues to be a threat to humans or animals in their care, the animal may have to be killed.

In suburban areas of southern California, trapping and euthanizing coyotes has been shown not only to remove the individual problem animal, but also to modify the behavior of the local coyote population. When humans remove a few coyotes, the local population may regain its fear of humans in densely populated areas. It is neither necessary nor possible to eliminate the entire population of coyotes in a given area. Contact your local wildlife office for additional information.

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Public Health Concerns

Coyote diseases or parasites are rarely a risk to humans. People handling coyotes, however, should wear rubber gloves and wash their hands well when finished.

Canine distemper, a disease that affects domestic dogs, is found in the coyote population. Vaccinate dogs for canine distemper and encourage neighbors to do the same.

Mange occurs in coyote and red fox populations. The parasitic mite burrows into the outer layer of the animal's skin, causing extreme irritation. This mite is fairly species-specific, so it would be difficult for a human to contract mange from a wild animal with these parasites.

Coyotes can also carry rabies.

If a coyote bites or scratches you, immediately scrub the wound with soap and water. Flush the wound liberally with tap water. Contact your physician and the local health department immediately. If your pet is bitten, follow the same cleansing procedure and contact your veterinarian.

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Legal Status

Coyotes are considered furbearing game animals. Both a license and an open season are required to hunt or trap them. Because of the legal status, trapping restrictions and other information can change, contact your Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Regional Office for updates.

If a coyote is causing damage or is a nuisance, consult Maine's laws on this subject: http://www.mainelegislature.org/legis/statutes/12/title12ch921sec0.html

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Additional Information

Books

Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts: The Science of Wildlife Damage Management
Written by: Michael Conover
Lewis Publishers, 2002.

New England Wildlife, Habitat, Natural History, and Distribution
Written by: Richard DeGraff, and Mariko Yamasaki
University Press of New England, 2001.
Available from: www.upne.com

Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage
Written by: Scott E. Hygnstrom, et al.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, 1994.
Available from:

University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension
202 Natural Resources Hall
Lincoln, NE 68583-0819
phone: 402-472-2188)

Solving Coyote Problems: How to Outsmart North America's Most Persistent Predator
Written by: Scott E. Hygnstrom, et al.
Trout, John. . Lyons Press, 2001.

Internet Resources

Coexisting with Coyotes (From the Stanley Park Ecology Society)

Containment Systems:

Roll Guard, Inc. (Coyote Roller©)

Adapted from: "Living with Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest"
(see Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

Written by: Russell Link, Wildlife Biologist, Email Russell Link, with assistance from WDFW Biologists Rich Beausoleil and Rocky Spencer

Design and layout: Peggy Ushakoff, ITT2

Illustrations: As credited

Copyright 2004 by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

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