Mammals: Coyote

Known in Native American folklore and legends as the cunning trickster, the coyote has an air of mystery surrounding it. This may be in part due to its intelligence, generally nocturnal nature, magical looking stare, and its dance like prance. The coyote (Canis latrans ) , in the west is about the size of a medium size dog at first glance. The nose is quite pointed, and the tail extremely bushy. The fur is usually gray to reddish-gray, with a rusty color on the legs, feet, and ears...

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The underthroat, belly, and rear flanks near the tail are whitish. The total length nose to tail ranges from 40-to-55 inches and average weight runs from 28-to-46 pounds. There are three canid species in Kootenai Country Montana, of which the coyote is the most common and the middle sized dog family member. Wolves are much larger and hold the tail high when running. Red fox are a bit smaller, and hold their tails out straight when running.    

Coyotes are extremely adaptable and highly flexible in social organization, living in family units or somewhat loosely knit packs of unrelated individuals. The name coyote comes from the Nahuati language, and this dialect is historically known as Aztec. The term coyote is a loose translation of the word coyoti, referring to a fox or jackal. The scientific name translates into barking dog in relation to the numerous calls, vocalizations, and howls emitted by this species.    

A habitat generalist, western coyotes will utilize prairies, grasslands, forest edges, open woodlands, wetland borders, brushy areas, and mixed coniferous forests. Hunting focus cues in on visual aspects and a highly sensitive sense of smell. They are mainly nocturnal, very territorial, and a true scavenger. When hunting large prey such as deer, they will usually work in pairs or small groups. Coyotes go for the throat, lacerating the head in frontal attacks. Coyotes will hunt mice and voles by pouncing, and will chase down ground squirrels. Smaller prey is usually hunted by a single coyote. Older, wiser coyote pairs will kill porcupines, as the younger ones usually only end up with a nose full of quills. At times, coyotes and badgers may mutually hunt and assist each other digging up rodent prey.    

Coyotes are mainly meat eaters, and will scavenge at times. Prey species include deer, western cottontail rabbits, snowshoe hare, mice, voles, birds, grouse, frogs, snakes, fish, freshwater crayfish, and insects. Rarely, they may take fishers or black bear cubs. Plant materials are also harvested, with wild berries being somewhat a priority of fruits. Sometimes coyotes may kill red fox, bobcat and lynx, usually targeting adult females and juveniles. Of course, occasionally in single combat one of these species may also kill the coyote. Coyotes mate in winter usually, and have an average of five pups. They den in burrows, hollow trees, or under rock ledges.    

Coyotes most often mark their trails with urine scent, claw marks, and feces. But beware Kootenai Country Montana explorers, as the trails themselves can be deceiving and tricky!    

(Author’s Note: Reference - I.D. of Montana’s Furbearing Mammals, - K. Alt. Valuable, abundant, unprotected predator.)