The coyote is a member of the same family that foxes, dogs and wolves belong to, the canids. Their name comes from the Aztec word for the species “coyotl”, which, loosely translated, means trickster. The Eastern Coyote is the type found in Massachusetts.
Coyote vary in size depending on location but generally are four to four-and-a-half feet long including the tail, stand eighteen to twenty-five inches tall at the shoulder, and weigh twenty to fifty pounds. A coyote may be gray, brown or tan above and white or light-color underneath, with a straight, bushy tail.
Coyote are adaptable and can live in a wide range of climates and conditions, from suburbia to wilderness, sea level to over ten thousand feet in altitude, and are now found in all states except Hawaii. They are territorial, the males marking their boundaries with urine, as do many canids. The size of the territory is directly related to the quality of the habitat, and often it can take several square miles to support a coyote family.
Coyote are omnivorous and make use of an astonishing variety of plant and animal foods including garbage, insects, rodents, rabbits, birds, deer, carrion, and even berries and fruits. Coyote play an important role in controlling rodents.
Coyote breed during February or March and give birth in April or May. The litter size varies, depending, in part, upon environmental conditions and coyote population density. The pups nurse for up to two months, mature quickly, and are fully independent at about nine months. While offspring are small and unable to hunt, the male coyote provides protection and food for the family unit.
Generally, coyote are extremely shy and avoid contact with humans. In urban and suburban areas, however, coyote may be less likely to fear people and more likely to associate them with an easy, dependable food source. Some have been known to come up to the doors of homes if food is regularly present. Pets, especially cats and small dogs, are seen by coyote as a food source and should be protected. If you live in an area where there are coyote, it is important to supervise children and pets when they are outside. Make sure you are not inadvertently attracting coyote by leaving out open trash containers, feeding pets outside, or leaving spilled bird seed on the ground, which can attract small rodents that then can attract coyote.
Innumerable non-lethal strategies exist to discourage coyote predation on pets and livestock, including guard animals (dogs, donkeys, llamas), smell and taste aversion substances, shock devices, noise devices, and portable fencing. Click here to go to our links and resources page to find a company that sells roll top fence attachments which prevent coyotes from jumping over fences. Poultry and hobby livestock can be well-protected from coyotes with fencing (both structural and electric) and by ensuring that the animals are properly confined in well-built cages or pens each evening. For more information on how to avoid conflicts with coyotes, see The Humane Society’s coyote hazing guidelines. For a comprehensive solution, see Denver’s Coyote Management Plan.
Historically, trapping has never been a method for managing coyote populations in Massachusetts. In the past few decades, there have only been two land trapping seasons for taking coyote. Hunting is more commonly used in the state for killing coyote – the coyote hunting season is nearly five months long. If coyote should pose a threat to public health or safety, the law allows for the use of prohibited traps for capturing those problem animals.
As conflicts most often occur in suburban areas, trapping should be conducted responsibly. A special permit is required.
Like all warm-blooded animals, coyotes may contract rabies.