Coyotes are yellowish gray with bushy black-tipped tails and whitish throats and bellies. At 20 to 40 pounds they’re larger than 8- to 15-pound foxes but smaller than wolves, which can weigh between 50 and 100. Because coyotes are extremely adaptable, they can survive in many habitats, including cities. They are considered nocturnal but are commonly active during the day. Their barks and yips can carry 2 or 3 miles and make two or three animals sound like six or more. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t howl to announce a pending or successful kill.
Coyotes are vital to ecological balance because they help to keep populations of smaller animals in check. Over 90 percent of their diet is small mammals, but they will eat birds, snakes, insects, fish, fruits, and injured or sick deer.
Their breeding season begins in February and is the only time coyotes use dens, which are often in vacant fox or woodchuck burrows but can be under log or brush piles or in hollow trees or abandoned buildings. Litters are born in April and average six to seven pups. They’re fed by their mother for about a month, but after that, both parents bring food to the den. Male coyotes will continue to care for weaned young even if their partners die.
Young are self-sufficient in six to nine months but remain with their families after they leave the den. Many first-year females stay with their parents through the following summer, picking up valuable mothering skills as they help with the next litter.
Sightings of families may contribute to the idea that coyotes live and hunt as wolves do in packs, but wolf packs can contain unrelated individuals. Coyotes remain in parent-offspring units and usually hunt alone or in male-female pairs; prey in DuPage isn’t big enough to merit a group effort.
Some people believe that populations are on the rise, but there’s no supportive data. It could be that people are seeing the same coyotes more often. During the first half of the year, sightings increase as year-old males start to look for territories to call their own. Year-round, if individual coyotes become more comfortable around humans, daytime activities — and sightings — can also increase.
For videos and information on how to prevent and respond to coyote encounters, visit Living With Coyotes.
Coyote or Wolf
Since 2000 there have only been 10 confirmed wolf sightings in Illinois, and none were in DuPage.
From a distance, it can be difficult to tell if an animal is a coyote or a wolf, but there are differences. Wolves can be twice as large as coyotes, as much as 115 pounds. (In winter, coyotes’ thick coats can make them look larger than they really are.) Wolves have large, blocky snouts; coyotes’ are smaller and pointed. Wolf ears are rounded, but a coyote’s ears are pointed and are proportionately larger than its head. The ears on 30-pound coyote can be the same size as those on an 80-pound wolf.