Video by Dennis Money
According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Eastern coyotes look similar to German shepherd dogs, yet are half the weight. Coyotes have long, thick fur. Their tails are full and bushy, usually carried pointing down. Ears are large, erect, and pointed. Their length is 4 to 5 feet (nose to tail), and they weigh 35 to 45 pounds (males usually larger than females). Their color is 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.
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.
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.