Scientific Name: Canis latrans
The Eastern coyote looks like a medium-sized German shepherd dog, with long thick fur. The tail is full and bushy, usually carried pointing down. Ears are erect and pointed.
Length:4 to 5 feet (including tail)
Weight: 35 to 45 pounds (males usually larger than females.)
Color:Variable, from blonde or reddish blonde to dark tan washed with black. Legs, ears and cheeks usually reddish.
Coyotes in Suburbia
The Eastern coyote, commonly believed to live only in the more wild parts of New York, readily adapts to living close to people. Coyotes live throughout upstate New York. They have been sighted in parts of New York City, and are common in the suburbs north of the City. As unlikely as it may seem, human development makes surprisingly good coyote habitat. The abundant coyote food supply (e.g., rabbits, squirrels, deer, cats, small dogs, garbage, and pet food) makes living in close to people worthwhile.
As coyotes increasingly adapt to people, more encounters between humans and coyotes will occur, either as sightings, confrontations with pets, disturbed garbage or pet foods, or howling at night. Some background on coyote habits may help people understand these encounters and solve any problems that occur. To minimize conflicts, it is important that suburban residents do their part to maintain the natural fear that coyotes have of people.
The Coyote Diet
What do New York coyotes eat? A coyote's diet depends on one thing - what is easiest to find or catch and kill. During the summer, coyotes will feed heavily upon berries, insects, and rodents. During early fall they rely on abundant grasshoppers. Small mammals become the prey of choice during late fall and winter. As winter becomes harder and small mammal populations decline, coyotes turn toward their largest prey - whitetail deer. Deer killed by vehicles and other causes (carrion) can be an important food source for coyotes. Lacking any carrion, coyotes can, will, and do kill healthy adult deer. Coyotes in the spring time can have an impact on fawn survival in localized areas.
How Many Coyotes live in New York
After hearing a family group of coyotes howl, it is easy to get the impression that the woods must be overflowing with coyotes. In reality there were probably five or six. A few coyotes make a tremendous amount of noise when they want to. The eastern coyote does not form a true 'pack' with multiple adults living together like their relative the wolf. Instead they are organized as a 'family unit'. Each family unit is made up of the adult pair and their pups from the current year. A family unit will defend a territory of 6 to 15 square miles against other coyotes. It is the territorial behavior of coyotes that limits their numbers in any one area. The coyote population in New York during the Summer is approximately 20,000-30,000.
Young of the year coyotes are driven from their parents' territory between September and March. These young coyotes travel up to one hundred miles in search of a vacant territory to claim as their own.
How Did Coyotes Arrive in New York?
There are two theories to explain the presence of Eastern coyotes in New York. The first theory is that coyotes were here before Europeans settled North America. The clearing of the forest for farms and homes forced coyotes to retreat to unsettled areas of the northeast, e.g., the Adirondack mountains. The return of the forest during this century coincided with the return of the coyote.
The second, and more widely accepted theory, is that the Eastern coyote is a relatively new species in New York. This theory suggests that western coyotes extended their range eastward, eventually forming a distinct subspecies.
Whichever theory is true, coyotes have been present in New York at least since the 1930's, and firmly established themselves by the 1970's. They are here to stay.
Coyotes or Coydogs?
The large canid which resides in New York is a true species; they are not a hybrid. The proper name is the Eastern Coyote, Canis latrans. Coyotes and dogs theoretically can interbreed to produce what is called a 'coydog'. However, these crossbreeds have a reproductive cycle of dogs, not coyotes, and will give birth at times of the year when the pups cannot possibly survive (i.e., January). In addition, there are behavioral differences between dogs and coyotes which prevent crossbreeding from occurring. Coyotes want to mate with other coyotes and not with dogs. Coyotes are actually more likely to prey upon a domestic dog instead of mating with it. It is in this manner that dog genes are prevented from entering the gene pool of true coyotes, maintaining the two separate species. Coydogs occurred at the leading edge of coyote range expansion during the 1950 to early 1970's. The occurrence of a coydog would be an extremely rare event in New York today.
Coyote Hunting and Trapping
Over 60,000 New Yorkers participate in coyote hunting each year and about 3,000 participate in coyote trapping. All of Upstate New York is open for coyote hunting and a small game hunting license is required to hunt coyotes. All of Upstate New York is also open for coyote trapping and a trapping license is required.
Consult the NYS DEC Hunting and Trapping Regulations Guide for more information on coyote hunting and Trapping.
The Environmental Conservation Law allows 'problem coyotes' to be killed at other times of the year. Section 11-0523 says coyotes that are "injuring private property may be taken by the owner, occupant or lessee... at any time in any manner."
More about Eastern Coyote:
- The Status and Impact of Eastern Coyotes in Northern New York - Executive Summary and Table of Contents from a report entitled: The Status and Impact of Eastern Coyotes in Northern New York, June 1991.
- Watchable Wildlife: Eastern Coyote - Fascinating facts about the coyote and information to enhance your wildlife viewing experience.