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Coyotes (Canis latrans) are native to Indiana and were rare or uncommon until the early 1970s. Before the settlement of Indiana, coyotes were primarily restricted to original prairie regions of the state. With the clearing of forests for farming, coyotes have expanded their distribution. Today, coyotes are found throughout Indiana, including urban areas.
The coyote closely resembles a German shepherd dog in size and shape but it carries its tail below the level of its back instead of curved upward.
It has a long slender snout, pointed ears and comparatively long legs. The upper body is a grizzled gray or buff, with a reddish brown or gray muzzle. The lower body is white, cream-colored or reddish yellow. The coyote has a bushy tail, which it carries below the level of its back. Weight averages 30 pounds (ranging from 20 to 50 pounds), and they measure 40 to 50 inches long from nose to tail tip. Coyotes are elusive and normally avoid humans. They can be active day or night, but are observed more typically at dawn and dusk. The coyote communicates by barking, yelping and howling. Coyotes will develop a “search image” for a prey type that is more easily scavenged or killed. A “search image” includes visual, auditory and olfactory senses.
Coyotes are present in all sections of the state. Coyote pelts first became noticeable in the fur harvest of 1971, when 30 hides were reported sold. By 1978, about 2,500 pelts were purchased by Indiana fur buyers. Since then, statewide coyote abundance has increased at a slower rate as coyotes continue to expand into previously unoccupied habitat.
Coyotes may pair up for life. They mate in February. A litter of five to 10 pups is born in a den in April. The den is often located in a bank or on a hillside, or it may be an enlarged woodchuck or rabbit burrow. Sometimes, rock outcroppings or caves are used, and at times, dens may be constructed on level ground. When the pups are old enough to take solid food, they are fed by both parents. They begin playing at the entrance of their den at 3 to 4 weeks of age, and by 10 weeks of age they may leave the den completely. Both the male and female coyote are involved in the pup’s young lives. They provide them with food and instruct them on how to hunt until the fall months when the youngsters are nearly full grown and ready to begin life on their own.
Coyotes are opportunistic foragers that will consume anything of nutritional value. Coyotes primarily feed on small mammals, even in urban environments, but they will not turn down an easy meal, nor will they pass up a free meal of artificial food sources. They will scavenge exposed garbage or other refuse, and may even kill and consume house cats and small dogs.
One reason coyotes have continued to persist into modern times is that they can accept a varied diet. Mice, rabbits, poultry, livestock, wild fruit, songbirds and sometimes game birds can be found in the coyote larder. Because coyotes sometimes prey upon livestock, they have been looked upon with disfavor by sheep and cattle raisers. In their defense, usually one or two coyotes in an area find livestock a favored source of food. Often times, only the weak or very young animals are taken. Good husbandry on the part of the sheep or cattle raisers can substantially reduce livestock loss to coyote.
Hunting and trapping should continue to be actively pursued as a method of population control. When livestock depredations occur, it should be recognized that problem coyotes should be considered unwelcome members of the native Indiana wildlife community.
Landowners, or a person with written permission from a landowner, may take coyotes year-round on private property by snaring, trapping or shooting without a permit from the DNR. A landowner does not need a permit to take coyotes on his/her property by one of these methods, but a hunting or trapping license is required to hunt or trap coyotes on land other than your own.
To get help with a nuisance coyote, contact a licensed wildlife control operator.