Coyotes can range from northern Alaska all the way south to Costa Rica. Like many New Yorkers, our coyotes are not originally from around here. Formerly, coyotes were residents of the Great Plains and Southwest. Over time they extended their range. Now eastern coyotes can be found throughout New York State, including parts of New York City. Here they live in urban forests, suburban neighborhoods, and parklands. Some of our local coyotes’ ancestors first moved into the Bronx in the 1990s from other parts of New York State. Though our local coyotes are still mostly Bronx residents, some of the younger generations have begun branching out into other boroughs like Queens. Usually coyotes occupy the same two-square-mile territory all year long. However, just like true New Yorkers, they are willing to move if another piece of prime real estate becomes available.
Fashionable city dwellers know that your wardrobe needs to evolve with the seasons. Our local coyotes apparently got the memo. In winter, their coats often appear longer, fuller, and lighter in color. In the summer their coats thin out and become darker. The fur of an eastern coyote varies in color. They can appear brown, blonde, red, black, or a mix thereof. Coyotes are about the same size as a medium-sized dog and are sometimes mistaken for them. One way of distinguishing between a coyote and a dog is by looking for a black tip at the end of the tail, which coyotes generally have. Most coyotes are four to five feet in length, including a 12-15 inch tail. Coyote tracks often look similar to that of a dog, except that they leave an imprint of just the middle two claws. Coyote tracks are generally in a straight line compared to the more irregular pattern that dogs leave.
Eastern coyotes are not introverts—they like to be out and about. They can be visible throughout the year, exploring their surroundings or searching for their next meal. They become more vocal in late summer and early fall, and will howl and yip to mark their territories or reunite their family group. They can travel 3-10 miles in a day, run 35-43 miles per hour, and swim at least half a mile.
It is probably for the best that they stay so active, because coyotes will eat whatever is available to them whenever they are hungry. Coyotes prefer to eat prey like mice, rats, squirrels, and rabbits. That said, they are not picky eaters, and will expand their diets to include plant materials, berries, and insects depending on what is seasonally and locally available. Coyotes will even eat pet food that is left outside, bird seed from feeders, and garbage, so it is important not to unintentionally feed coyotes this way. These easily accessible food sources are like coyote fast food—not only is it unhealthy for them to eat, but it makes them less motivated to hunt for their own meals. They are naturally skilled hunters, employing a variety of hunting strategies including hunting alone, in pairs, with their family group, and scavenging.
Eastern coyotes in New York City can be solitary or live in a family group consisting of parents and their young. Many of the coyotes currently living in the city can actually be traced back to the original group that first arrived in the Bronx, so they truly are multi-generational New Yorkers. As their families have gotten bigger, they have begun branching out into other boroughs—a situation that any city resident with a growing family can certainly relate to.
Coyotes usually mate for life. The peak mating season is in late winter, from January to March. Coyote pups are born approximately two months later, in April and May. Pups are born blind and covered with short fur. Once pups are approximately 9 months old, they usually begin to disperse from their parents. Many public sightings occur during this time due to their increased visibility. In some cases, pups will stay behind and remain with their family groups for another year before leaving.
In the wild, eastern coyotes usually live for six to eight years, though they often live much shorter lives in urban environments. Hunting, disease, and vehicle collisions are the major causes of death for coyotes.