Summit Outside: More to coyotes than meets the eye |

Summit Outside: More to coyotes than meets the eye


A friend said she saw coyote tracks the other day around Dillon Reservoir and coincidentally the same day another friend who lives in Edwards mentioned that a coyote serenaded them the night before. The coyote was right outside their window and carried on for quite a while. Their property borders the Eagle River.

There are no published statistics on the coyote populations in Summit County. I have seen an occasional one dart across the road early in the morning on the way to Frisco Marina from Breckenridge. There have been reports of coyote dens in on the Frisco Peninsula, and there was the unfortunate incident in Breckenridge of a coyote nabbing a beloved dog who was accompanying his owners as they were cross country skiing. Coyotes adapt well to human habitations and even metropolitan areas.

How do you generally distinguish coyote tracks from dogs? Coyotes use a variety of gaits, but one of their favored gaits is a lope, leaving a line of tracks resembling the letter C, or the side trot which is a straight 2 by 2 pattern. You can usually see four toes with claws on both front and hind feet, but that might be harder to see in the snow than in the mud. Their foot pad is roughly triangular-shaped with the hind foot is slightly smaller than the front foot. Tracks of domestic dogs are generally rounder and have blunt nails.

For a coyote track you can draw an X-shape in the space between the paws and toes, whereas on most domestic dogs this is not the case. So a way to remember might be X-C (like cross country).

The coyotes’ high-pitched vocalizations are most often heard at dusk or night. Although they howl throughout the year, it is most common in the spring during mating season and in the fall when the pups leave their families to establish new territories.

When a coyote calls his pack together, he howls at one high note, this note gets higher in frequency when the pack is together, and then they yip and yelp. The scientific name, Canis latrans, means “barking dog.”

The upper frequency limit of hearing for coyotes is 80 KHz, compared to the 60 kHz for the domestic dog. The coyote howl is higher pitched than the wolf and with rising and falling notes.

All the distinguishing characteristics can get quite confusing because coyotes will sometimes mate with domestic dogs (coydogs) and wolves. The resulting hybrids show differences especially in the ears and tail. A study showed that out of 100 coyotes collected in Maine, 22 had wolf ancestry. The Red Wolf is thought by certain scientists to be in fact a wolf/coyote hybrid.

Coyotes dig their own burrows, though they often take over the burrows of groundhogs or badgers. Coyote territories can range 10-11 miles around the den, and they tend to travel along fixed trails.

Once the female chooses a partner, the pair may remain together for a number of years. The average litter is about six pups but may be as many as 19. There is a high juvenile mortality rate. Only about half the pups survive to adulthood. Both parents feed the weaned pups regurgitated food. Male pups will leave their dens between 6- and 9-months of age, while females usually remain with the parents and become part of the pack.

Coyotes primarily hunt in pairs, but their packs consist of six closely related adults and young. They hunt small animals – such as mice – by stalking through the grass, and pouncing like a cat.

Coyotes will commonly work in teams when hunting large animals such as deer and elk. They may take turns pursuing the deer to exhaustion, or they may drive it towards hidden members of the pack. During pursuit, a coyote may reach speeds up to 40 mph and can jump a distance of 12 feet. They are persistent hunters, with attacks sometimes lasting as long as 21 hours. Coyote attacks on humans are uncommon, more often on small children, and these rarely result in serious injuries or fatalities. They are however, major livestock predators, and will attack pets. Scat analysis collected in California showed that coyotes dined regularly on dogs and cats – especially in the winter and spring. Coyotes are often attracted to garbage, pet food and feeding stations for birds and squirrels. That is why they can be found in residential areas.

The coyote is a popular character in folklore with traits such as mischievousness and evasiveness. The best known cartoon character is Wile E. Coyote. Coyote is also slang for a person who smuggles illegal immigrants over the border from Mexico to the United States.

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