Coyotes by Jason Haupt

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This week we are going to look at the largest member of the dog family found in Illinois. The Coyote has a poor reputation particularly among farmers. But is this reputation truly deserved?

Coyotes are relatively easy to recognize. They are about the size of a small German Shepherd, much larger than most people think, and come in a wide variety of colors and markings. They have a long bushy tail, long legs, upright ears and a long slender muzzle. They are slighter than most domestic dogs of similar size particularly through the snout. Coyotes range from grey to buff on their sides with a varying amount of black tipped guard hairs. The underside is lighter to white. A thin black stripe runs the length of the spine and the tip of the tail is black. The back of the ears, face and hind legs can have a reddish or yellowish hue. Coyotes are larger than the foxes that are found in Illinois, but are smaller than wolves.

Coyotes are not picky where habitat is concerned. Though they originally were seen on the prairies, they have quickly adapted to life in a number of different habitats. They can be found in all types of habitats found in Illinois, including suburban and urban habitats. A population of Coyotes is present in Chicago. Coyotes have central habitats that are on average about six square miles. Coyotes are found throughout most of North America. They are not seen in the northern parts of Canada.

Female Coyotes produce one litter per year. An average litter has six puppies, though the litter size is dictated by the abundance and availability of food. The young puppies are weaned at two months. Coyotes can form pairs for several years, sometimes forming pairs for life. Female Coyotes will often mate in their first breeding season. Young Coyotes usually disperse within the first year.

Coyotes are generalists when it comes to their eating habits. The diet of a Coyote is variable depending on season and location. The bulk of the Coyotes diet consists of small mammals, but they also eat aquatic animals, reptiles, amphibians, carrion and fruits. During the latter part of the summer and through the fall, Coyotes will eat fruits that are available; in other parts of the year, meat will make up the bulk of the diet. Coyotes tend to hunt alone or in pairs, occasionally hunting as a family group. Because of this, Coyotes do not hunt prey larger than themselves. Often when a Coyote is seen eating a larger animal, they are eating it as carrion. Coyotes will hunt deer fawns in the spring. Extra food is cached, burying it to hide it from other animals.

Fun Coyote Facts:

  1. Coyotes are the fastest member of the dog family. They are able to get up to 40 MPH while sprinting.
  2. Coyotes have been observed hunting "with" badgers. They will catch rodents that escape while the badger digs into their den.

For more information, please contact Jason Haupt (


Field Manual of Illinois Mammals-Joyce E Hofmann.