Coyote Ecology

Coyote Ecology

Transient vs. Resident

Scientists categorize coyotes as either transients or residents.

Transient coyotes are those individuals that are not associated with a pack. Typically, transient coyotes have greater home ranges and do not defend a territory.

Resident coyotes are those individuals associated with a pack that actively defends a territory. Resident packs defend their territories from other packs as well as from transients, essentially regulating population density.

This is important to remember when considering trapping coyotes as a removal method. We will revisit this in the section on Coyote Management.

Transient coyotes are solitary, nomadic individuals. There are a number of reasons why a coyote may be a transient. One possible reason is that the coyote is young and has dispersed from its natal pack in search of its own territory to start a pack of its own. (Dispersion is a mechanism that played a major role in the coyotes range expansion from the Midwest to other areas of North America.) Another reason may be that the coyote is older and has been displaced from its pack by younger coyotes.

Resident coyotes live in packs and defend territories. Pack and territory sizes depend on many factors, closely linked to resource availability.

More space and food can support more coyotes. Increased prey densities can lead to increase predator densities.

Evidence suggests that female coyotes can have larger litters when food is more abundant (More food=More coyotes).

Packs defend territories that are large enough to support all individuals in the family, at least for a given period.

Territories/Activity Patterns

A territory is an area within a home range that is defended by a pack of coyotes.  An area of high value, this is where coyotes find food and raise their young.

Territory size depends on such factors as resource abundance, coyote density, landscape characteristics, etc. The Cook County Coyote Study (Dr. Gehrt) has found that coyote territories average less than 2 square miles, but have been documented as large as 4.3 square miles.

Dr. Jonathan Way of the Cape Cod Coyote Study found the average coyote territory to be 11 square miles, ranging from 6-18 square miles.  Interestingly, Dr. Numi Mitchell, of the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study, found that coyotes whose diet consisted primarily of natural items had larger territory sizes (~5 square miles), while coyotes that relied on subsidies (i.e., human-related food) occupied smaller territories (~1 square mile).

Urban coyote activity patterns differ from those of rural coyotes. They are considered crepuscular (i.e., active during dusk and dawn) as well as nocturnal. Though there is some overlap, studies have found that urban coyotes are, generally speaking, active at later times than their rural counterparts.

This change in behavior is thought to be the result of the animals attempt at avoiding humans. This allows them to travel through neighborhoods virtually undetected.  Moreover, it allows them to roam streets when there is less traffic, essentially decreasing the incidence of mortality due to car collision, which is the number one cause of mortality in the Chicago study.

Coyotes travel through their territories in search of food as well as to defend their home. They use different cues to announce their presence and claim space.  Using scents–urine and scat (feces)–coyotes mark their territory, sending a message to other animals that this space is their territory.  Also, among other things, these messages tell members of the opposite sex if they are reproductively active.