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Wily Coyote
Michael Ellis discusses the clever creature thriving on suburban environments.

By Michael Ellis

The coyote figures in many Native American myths as the creator, the fool, the transformer and the prankster. In fact the word "coyote" is an Aztec word which means "trickster."

Well, they certainly have tricked their way into 49 states, throughout Canada and all the way south to Panama. Coyotes are by far the most successful large carnivore in North America. And since the gray wolf has been extirpated throughout the Eastern U.S., the coyote moved in from the West and now thrives in places it never did before. One even showed up in Central Park in New York City several years ago. And our own Golden Gate Park has resident coyotes. We are talking adaptable and flexible.

Coyotes have greatly extended their range and increased in numbers because they can exploit edge habitat. That is open grass or brush next to wooded areas, plenty of cover and food nearby. Hmm, sounds like the suburbs. Essentially we have modified the wild environment to perfectly suit coyotes, whereas other large predators like mountain lions and wolves have decreased in numbers.

Coyotes usually hunt in pairs and it is true that in urban areas coyotes will take domestic cats and small dogs. They are extremely flexible in their diet and nearly everything is considered food from garbage and carrion to deer and birds. During the late summer and early fall they eat a lot of berries as well.

Coyotes originally evolved in the Great Plains of North America during the Pleistocene era, 1.8 million years ago, relatively recently. They are so closely related to both the gray wolf and the domestic dog that they can hybridize easily with both. There are coy-dogs and coy-wolfs. Rare but it happens.

The breeding season is limited to the early spring when six pups are born. Both male and female help provision the young and occasionally the offspring from the previous years stick around to help as well.

Hate 'em or love 'em, coyotes are here to stay.

Oh. and by the way, they have never been known to actively hunt roadrunners. Beep beep.

This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.

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