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Creature Feature: Coyotes, the Opportunistic Eaters




(Photo courtesy of Mark Hanna)

Coyotes try to remain unseen, hunting under the cover of darkness to protect themselves from being hunted. In reality, though, coyotes live among us here in Will County and throughout the United States.

Coyotes are a member of the dog family, closely related to wolves. They are built for hunting, using their excellent vision and sense of smell.

Coyotes typically hunt alone, but they live as families. Unlike many other animals, coyotes mate for life, creating family dens where both parents take care of their litter of pups until they are old enough to go off on their own.

Because coyotes are hunters, they can be a danger to our pets. The best way to protect your cat or dog from a coyote is not to leave it alone in your yard, especially at night. It’s also a good idea to clean up after your dog. A good, solid backyard fence can also help keep coyotes off your property. 

Here’s some more information about coyotes and their habits.

The name game

The name coyote is Native American in origin, a derivative of the Aztec word “coyotl.” The scientific name, Canis latrans, translates to “barking dog.” The name refers to the way coyotes communicate, using yips, yelps, howls and barks to communicate with other coyotes. 

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Physical characteristics

Coyotes are part of the canine family, and they look similar to some of the dogs we keep as pets. Their fur color can vary, ranging from a light gray color to yellowish-brown, with white on the underbelly. Some coyotes can even have a nearly black or white coat. 

Coyotes have distinguishable ears, which are typically pointed or pricked, and they have a long, slender muzzle. These canines typically stand between 32 inches and 37 inches tall, but their weight can vary greatly, ranging from between 20 pounds and 50 pounds, National Geographic reports. Females are typically slightly smaller than males.

Where they live

Coyotes are native to the plains and southwestern United States. Today, however, they live all across North America and even Central America.

In Illinois, they are most populous in the south, southeast and west-central areas of the state, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Coyotes can survive in almost any type of habitat, including suburban and even urban environments. But they most frequently live in wooded areas, grasslands or farmland.

What they eat

Coyotes are opportunistic eaters, and they are the largest wild predator in Illinois, according to IDNR. They mostly eat other animals, with rabbits and mice serving as an important food source, but they also feast on berries and fruit.

A study on coyotes in the Chicago area found that their diets consisted of 43 percent small rodents, 23 percent fruit, 22 percent deer, 18 percent cottontail rabbits and 3 percent birds. More rare food sources included human foods found in garbage and domesticated cats and other animals. 

While often considered nuisance animals, coyotes do serve a valuable purpose, helping to keep the rodent and rabbit populations in check. According to University of Illinois Extension, coyotes, like all wildlife, have a place in the web of life. And most have a healthy fear of humans, and can and do live peaceably in and near our neighborhoods. 

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