New York Status: Not Listed
Federal Status: Not Listed
Eastern coyotes look similar to German shepherd dogs, yet are half the weight. They have long, thick fur and full bushy tails, usually carried pointing down. Ears are large, erect, and pointed.
Length: 4 to 5 feet (nose to 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. Many have a white chin and a dark spot just below the base of the tail when observed from behind.
You can read more about coyotes in the article "Rise of the Eastern Coyote (PDF)" in the June 2014 issue of the Conservationist.
Learn more about steps you can take to avoid conflicts with coyotes.
Eastern coyotes have a mix of coyote, wolf, and dog ancestry and are larger in size (about 40 pounds, on average) than coyotes west of the Mississippi. Wolves are larger than both. Eastern coyotes can be distinguished from wolves by their smaller size; large, pointed ears; and pointed snout.
Coyotes are opportunistic omnivores, meaning a coyote's diet depends on what is easy to find, scavenge, or catch and kill. Coyote diets are diverse and vary throughout the year based on seasonal availability. Annually, their diet includes white-tailed deer, rabbits, small mammals such as mice and voles, raccoons, groundhogs, birds, insects, and plant materials. Deer killed by vehicles and other causes (carrion) can be an important food source for coyotes. Coyotes do not frequently kill healthy adult deer.
Coyotes are not strictly nocturnal. They may be observed moving about during the day, yet are more active after sunset and at night. Seeing a coyote during the day does not necessarily mean it is sick or unhealthy, but caution should be exercised. Coyotes do not migrate. They are year-long residents and typically inhabit an area known as a home range. They are territorial, and will firmly defend portions of their home range. Adult coyotes live in home ranges throughout the year in New York; however, they may shift their activity patterns during the four seasons.
Coyotes are monogamous and mate for life. In early spring, female coyotes use dens for raising pups and often stay close to these sites. Male coyotes may travel greater distances to hunt more intensively while seeking additional food to support the female and pups. Litters of 4-6 pups are born in ground dens, brush piles, or under downed trees or human structures, such as sheds and other buildings. Coyote pups grow rapidly and are weaned at 5 to 7 weeks of age and abandon den sites around this time. They are fully grown at 9 months and eventually disperse after being driven from their parents' home ranges. These young coyotes often travel 50 to 100 miles in search of a vacant territory, find a mate, and enter adulthood as a breeding pair.
Distribution and Habitat
There are two hypotheses to explain the presence of Eastern coyotes in New York. The first explanation 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. The return of forested habitats during the 20th century coincided with the return of the coyote.
The second and more widely accepted hypothesis is that Eastern coyotes are a relatively new species in New York. This explanation suggests that coyotes originally inhabited central North America and naturally extended their range throughout the continent in response to human changes to the land. Evidence indicates that coyotes reached New York and the Northeast in the early 1930s and 1940s, with coyote range expansion first reaching the state by passing north of the Great Lakes and into northern New York. Coyotes then spread rapidly across the state over the next 40-50 years. Regardless of how they arrived in the state, coyotes have been present in New York since the 1930s, and have been firmly established throughout the state since the 1970s. They are here to stay.
Coyotes, commonly believed to live only in the more rural or wild parts of New York, readily adapt to living close to people. Coyotes live throughout Upstate New York and commonly inhabit many suburban and urban areas. Occasionally, they are sighted in parts of New York City and Long Island. As unlikely as it may seem, human development makes surprisingly good coyote habitat. The abundant food supply for coyotes makes living close to people possible.
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 animals present (i.e., 2 adults and young of the year). 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 2 to 15 square miles against other coyotes. It is the territorial behavior of coyotes that limits their numbers in any one area.
Across New York, the most commonly reported issues with coyotes were incidents involving pets. Coyotes seldom approach or act aggressively towards people directly; however, dogs and cats attract coyotes. Coyotes approaching pets pose an immediate risk to the safety of pets and can jeopardize human safety, too. Overall, problems between people and coyotes are rare, yet the potential for conflicts to occur remains. Human behaviors may increase that potential if people feed coyotes (either directly or indirectly), or if they allow coyotes to approach people and pets. To minimize conflicts, it is important that people do their part to maintain the natural fear that coyotes have of humans.
For more information to reduce or prevent risks see Coyote Conflicts.
About 30,000 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 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 NYSDEC 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."
When looking for wildlife in New York State, visit the Watchable Wildlife webpage for the best locations for finding your favorite mammal, bird, reptile, or insect. New York State has millions of acres of State Parks, forests and wildlife management areas that are home to hundreds of wildlife species, and all are open to the public. Choose from hundreds of trails and miles of rivers as well as marshes and wetlands.
Remember when viewing wildlife:
- Don't feed wildlife and leave wild baby animals where you find them.
- Keep quiet, move slowly and be patient. Allow time for animals to enter the area.
Quick Facts About Coyote
Similar to medium-sized dog tracks with four toes, claw marks, and a rear pad. Looking for coyote tracks in the winter is a good way to enjoy the outdoors. Look for coyote tracks moving alone or in pairs.
They leave a dropping similar to a dog, but look for parts of the animals they eat, such as hair and bones. Also look for bits of fruits or nuts.
When to Watch
Coyotes are most numerous at the end of summer and in the fall, when pups are almost fully grown. Watch an open field in late summer to see a coyote hunting for small mammals. Follow their tracks during the winter-you may catch a glimpse of a coyote in the distance as you track it.
What to Listen for
Chorus of howls and short, high-pitched yelps. Coyotes howl throughout the year, yet are highly vocal from late summer through early fall, and again during breeding season in winter. Listen for coyotes at dusk or after dark.