Monday, February 15, 2016

Coyotes in North Carolina

Reports of coyotes (Canus latrans) in North Carolina first emerged in the 1930s, often associated with imported specimens intended to help hunters practice for better game, i.e., red fox. Not until 1947, on Cherokee land in Swain County, did a forest ranger make the first recorded wild sighting of a coyote. In the mid-1980s the range of coyotes in North Carolina was primarily confined to some counties on the western boundary of the Piedmont. Yet today, coyotes occur in all 100 counties of the state. Their populations remain highest in the Western counties, but in the last ten to twenty years sizeable populations have grown in the Coastal Plain.

It isn’t difficult to account for recent increase in coyotes in North Carolina. The species is extremely mobile, with individuals dispersing up to 50 miles. Plus, coyotes can adapt to a wide-range of culinary delights. As a carnivore, most of a coyote’s diet is made up of small mammals, but they will also consume snakes, birds and large insects. If live food is scarce, coyotes will eat carrion. If carrion is scare, as it is in autumn and winter, they will eat berries and herbs. Fox hunters, houndsmen, and wildlife officials have unwittingly contributed to the rise of the coyote by releasing adults for training and accidentally introducing very cute coyote pups to gamelands instead of similar looking red fox pups. Moreover, the coyote’s natural predators in North Carolina have either been hunted to extinction (the gray wolf) or nearly so (the red wolf and mountain lion).

Coyotes from

Besides being adaptable, coyotes are also prolific. They reach sexual maturity around the age of one year, and by age two they select a mate for life. Coyotes will begin courtship rituals between January and March, and after a gestation of only 63 days a female will give birth to between one and twelve young (average litter: 6 pups). The pups wean from their mother six to eight weeks after being born, but continue to get food from their father and hunting lessons from their mother until the young disperse after one year.

The clever and cunning antics of coyotes often increase their success. They watch the sky for ravens, letting the birds guide them to carrion. They hunt as a pair, with one partner jumping wildly at a rabbit forcing it right into the mouth of its mate. Coyotes also adjust their behavior to gain from humans: begging in parking lots in Death Valley or attacking pets in the suburbs.

Although coyotes terrorize local neighborhoods, sometimes eat small dogs and chickens, and may carry rabies, they do confer one benefit: coyotes eat feral cats, and thus they could improve depleted song bird populations. Unfortunately, this benefit only further demonstrates the trouble we humans have respecting Mother Nature’s balance…and it doesn’t work out so well for those poor cats either.

Did you know?
·         Coyotes range from three to four feet long, and weight between 20 and 50 pounds.
·         Coyotes can communicate with over ten different sounds.
·         50% to 70% of coyotes die before attaining adulthood

·         Coyotes live between 10 and 14 years in the wild


Hampton, J. 1 Aug 2010. “Studies try to get handle on coyotes in N.C.” The Virginian-Pilot. Available at:

Hill, E. P., P. Sumner, and J. B. Wooding. 1987. Human influences on range expansion of coyotes in the southeast. Wildlife Society Bulletin 15:521-524.

Ware, J. 12 Nov 2007. “Coyotes make selves at home in our backyards.” StarNews Online. Available at: [accessed 02 Feb 2011]

Wilsdon, C. 1997. “Gaining Ground." National Geographic World. Feb 1997.

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