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All About Coyotes
Coyotes are a common sight along the American River Parkway and are often a source of concern. Experts note that coyotes are seldom a threat to humans. However, it is important to understand their habits and avoid interaction with them, because contact with humans may be harmful to the coyote and encourage the animal to favor human habitats over the wild.
Coyotes can be active day or night, at dusk or dawn and they do not hibernate. They are highly territorial and actively keep non-family members outside their territory. They have exceptional senses of smell, vision and hearing and they hunt both alone and in pairs.
Humans are the coyote’s chief enemy. It has been estimated that 30 to 50 percent of all adult coyotes die each year from human-related causes. Unfortunately, when well meaning people feed coyotes, they can become unnaturally bold.
According to Guy Galante, an outdoor educator who wrote about coyotes for the American River Natural History Association, coyotes play an important role in helping to shape the natural communities in which they live. As predators, they help keep populations of mice, rabbits and other small animals in check. They also prey upon other predators, such as raccoons and skunks, and this works to the benefit of birds, mice and other small animals.
There is strong evidence that coyotes mate for life unless their partner is removed or displaced. Their mating season stretches from January to March and courting usually begins in December. So, coyotes are often seen in pairs during winter months.
Pups come in the spring
The gestation period for a female coyote averages 63 days. She usually bears from three to six pups in an underground den. Litter size depends on how much food is available. It is believed that there is a small family grouping in each of the main access points to the American River Parkway.
Parkway users generally begin to see the pups out and about in June and July. In recent years, warmer spring temperatures have brought them out as early as May.
Coyotes are known to use the same den year after year, but in the Parkway, they may have multiple sites to avoid human disturbance, especially during the busy spring and summer months when human activity increases and encroaches on the wild spaces.
If a coyote pair is forced to move, they will relocate the pups one at a time, requiring them to leave the remaining pups unattended for short periods. So, if you see pups alone on the Parkway, do not assume they are abandoned and do not approach them.
The female nurses her pups in the den for the first three or four weeks of their lives before they begin to explore outside the den. After that, she continues to nurse them, but they also eat partially digested food regurgitated by their parents.
In the early weeks, the male coyote attends to the female and pups, bringing food to the den. Some family groups stay together over the winter, in which case the yearlings may help raise the next round of pups the following spring and summer.
Research shows that only one in five coyote pups survives the first year. In the wild, some coyotes live to the age of 11 years or more, about the same as large dogs.
Human impact on coyotes
Parkway coyotes face greater risks living close to urban and suburban environments. They are much more likely to get hit by a car than preyed upon by a mountain lion.
One of the greatest dangers to coyotes is an off-leash domestic dog, which also places itself in danger when sniffing its way into coyote hangouts. This activity can force a coyote to abandon its food or move from what would otherwise be safe habitat. Domestic dogs that wander unleashed may be met by aggressive coyotes that are simply trying to protect their dens.
Coyotes may even “gruff ” at walkers with leashed dogs who inadvertently get too close to the den. It is important to respect the coyote territory and spaces, mind your dogs and stay on designated trails.
Coyotes will feed on whatever is most readily available and easy to obtain. Their primary foods are fruits, berries, rodents and insects. They will scavenge on animal remains as well as garbage and pet foods left outdoors. In suburban areas they have been known to prey on unprotected pets. Everything a coyote does is related to a potential meal.