Identification | Biology | Damage ID | Management |Handling

Coyote (Canis latrans). Photo by Paul D. Curtis. 


The coyote (Canis latrans) is a member of the dog family. Historically, coyotes were most common on the Great Plains. Their range has expanded in the wake of human civilization to include much of North and Central America, including all of the US.  

Legal Status

The legal status of coyotes varies depending on state and local laws. In some states, including most western states, coyotes are classified as predators and can be hunted throughout the year, regardless of whether they are causing damage to livestock. In other states, coyotes may be hunted only during specific seasons, and often only by specific methods. Some eastern states consider coyotes to be game animals, fur bearers, or a protected species. Always review state regulations before initiating control. 

Physical Description 

Coyotes resemble small German shepherd dogs with erect, pointed ears, a slender muzzle, and a black-tipped, bushy tail. They may vary greatly in size, color, and appearance. Many coyotes are brown-gray with a light gray- or cream-colored belly. Overall color varies greatly from nearly black, to red, nearly white in some individuals and populations. Most individuals have dark guard hairs over the back and tail. Differences in coloration may partially be due to past hybridization with wolves. In western states, adult male coyotes weigh 25 to 45 pounds, and females 22 to 35 pounds. In the east, coyotes are larger, with males averaging 45 and females 30 pounds. Coyotes have excellent eyesight and hearing and a keen sense of smell. Coyotes are very mobile. They can reach speeds of up to 40 miles per hour for short distances and can sustain slower speeds for several miles. Coyotes have considerable physical endurance. 

Species Range

Distribution of the coyote in the US. Image by Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage (PCWD).

Voice and Sounds

Coyotes are very sociable and use vocalizations to communicate. Coyotes usually vocalize with a bark or a flat howl, both of which have many variations. Other sounds include a yip, warble, laugh, and irregular howl. Two coyotes howling together can give the impression of many more, which may lead to a skewed estimate of the size of the population of coyotes in a given area. Coyotes in urban areas do not always vocalize. 

Tracks and Signs

Tracks of coyotes are more oval in shape compared with the rounder tracks of domestic dogs. Marks from claws will be present when the imprint is made in soft ground. On average, front tracks are 2½ to 3 inches long, which is larger than the hind tracks.

Coyotes often deposit scat along trails, intersections, and around objects to identify their territory. Scats tend to be tubular and segmented with one end tapering to a point. The color and composition of coyote scat varies according to diet. Scat may contain fur, fragments of bone, feathers, berries, grass, and even plum pits, depending on the season and food availability. 

Footprints of canine predators.  
Image by PCWD. 


Information on this species is based on the chapter in Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage (Hygnstrom, Larson, Timm, ed. 1994), written by Jeffrey S. Green (USDA-APHIS-Animal Control), Robert Henderson (Kansas State University), and Mark D. Collinge (USDA-APHIS-Animal Control).