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The Crafty Coyote
written by JT Uptegrove

Almost every conversation concerning the coyote is centered on topics of what it stalks and eats.
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 The habits of coyotes are far different than most folklore associated with them.

The coyote holds a reputation across all stretches of rural America.  It's known as a smart, crafty and sometimes destructive creature capable of survival in the roughest conditions.  More recently, it's gaining fame as a well-adapted urban menace. Some say they're the most intellectual predator around, although no one will deny how resilient they are.

Almost every conversation concerning the coyote is centered on topics of what it stalks and eats.  These canines define the word opportunistic better than Webster.  With no preference for what they put in their belly, they seem best suited to hunt with keen senses of their ears, eyes and noses to pluck any available meal.  Of course, abundant critters such as rabbits and mice are the most common to fall prey to any famished coyote. They never pass up a meal, dead or alive.  Carrion is a regular part of their diet.  Coyotes have even made the connection between circling vultures and easy meals. Surprisingly, fruit and vegetables make the menu. According to Mike Pledger, Arkansas Game and Fish furbearer biologist, "Coyotes are classified as a carnivore, but they will eat most anything. They relish light fruits in season and consume a lot more vegetable matter than most people realize."Although coyotes are not overly large, weighing anywhere from 15 to 40 pounds and up to 5 feet in length, nose to tail, they are formidable predators.  Excellent agility and endurance allow them to outrun their quarry.  Most of the time, flush and capture is the style of hunting, unless they are pouncing rodents with their front paws. Healthy, grown livestock are safe; defeating the old folklore that ravaging packs of coyotes take down farmer's animals.  Pledger also reports, "Most of my investigations on large livestock depredation reveals dogs are at fault."Weak, wounded and young livestock are still only at a moderate risk. The hunting skills of coyotes are better suited to capturing small game. Newborn deer are occasionally eaten, but according to Pledger, "Coyotes have no measurable impact on the deer population, even in areas with heavy coyote densities."

Most coyotes live and hunt within a home range.  The size is defined by how much food is available and time of year. A home range can vary from 1 to 6 square miles.  Howling, urinating and defecating are all used to mark territory.  Often, different mating pairs will have overlapping ranges, but during pup rearing the territory will be defended.  

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 Coyote pups are basically helpless at birth and rely on thier mother's care for several months.

Pups are usually conceived between January and March.  The gestation period is about 9 weeks. Females will berth up to 17 pups, although the normal number is around six. In areas of heavy coyote mortality the females typically raise larger litters. The female seldom digs the den, typically it's the den of another animal enlarged to accommodate the family. After 6 weeks the den is abandoned.  From this point the pups and their mother sleep in sheltered areas above ground.  The father supplies most of the food while the mother oversees the young.  The young will develop a range through the summer and by fall sustain themselves.  The survival rate of the puppies is lower than you might expect.  It's common for only 20 percent of all pups to survive to adulthood.

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 Pouncing rodents in meadows is a favorite hunting tactic of coyotes.

The most concern coyotes have received recent years are their encroachment into urban areas. The so-called urban-menace coyote is gaining fame for causing trouble in the back yard instead of the traditional back 40. Pledger commented on the recent anxiety by saying, "The coyote is usually only guilty of being seen.  People in a town don't expect to witness a wild animal any larger than a squirrel or a rabbit.  When folks see something like a coyote or realize it lives in close proximity they freak out. They start fearing for their lives and the safety of children playing in the yard. And I'm not aware of there ever being an attack in Arkansas."Reports have surfaced claiming coyotes are doing so well in towns and cites that their numbers are superceding that of rural coyotes. Pledger rejects these claims by saying, "The truth is towns can't support a very large resident coyote population. There are a few that adapt, but the limiting factor is vehicles (death by collision)." 

After all the myth of and superstition of the coyote is removed, a rather interesting creature remains.  When almost every other predator has disappeared in the presence of man, this canine has flourished. Its range is far greater now than before humans settled the continent. Proving itself as a resourceful and clever animal.

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