Have you ever woken up late at night and heard an eerie howl? Or have you been outside at dusk and a yip, yip, yiiiip broke through the quiet? That is the sound of Illinois’ largest permanent resident predator: the smart, adaptable coyote.
Coyotes are the size of a medium-sized dog, somewhere in between the size of a fox and a wolf. They even look a lot like a German shepherd. Keep an eye out for a coyote's yellow-colored eyes and large pointed ears with black tips. Their thick, yellowish fur coat tapers out to a bushy, black-tipped drooping tail.
According to one Potawatomi legend, the tail of the coyote was singed black while trying to bring fire to humans. A witch, trying to keep fire all the to herself, chased after Coyote and reached out to grab him, but only managed to burn the end of his tail. And that is why Coyote’s tail is black at the end.
Male and female coyote pairs are thought to breed for life. It is a team effort for them to raise their babies. Pups are born in spring, around April, with about five to seven pups in each litter.
Coyote pups are born in a hidden underground den. Dens have at least two tunnels that are 3 feet to 4 feet underground. Sometimes coyote parents repurpose an abandoned burrow dug by a woodchuck, fox or skunk. They make it their own, enlarging the tunnels and making the entrance about a foot around. Mothers make a second den. Why? It’s their backup home in case they need to escape danger — or if the flea situation gets too bad at home No. 1.
The father coyote hunts while mom takes care of their young in the den. At about three weeks old, the pups first come out of the den to play. A few weeks later, they leave the den for good. Pups learn to hunt from their parents. By the end of summer, they move out of their parent’s territory. That is unless they decide to stay together in a hunting pack.
Coyotes are so adaptable because of their diverse diet. They are not picky eaters! They hunt small rodents, rabbits, birds, deer, fish, reptiles, amphibians and insects. They are opportunists, eating what is readily available, even carrion, which are animals that have already died. But that’s not all; they enjoy berries and have been known to even eat corn!
Coyotes are smart and sociable. They come together to play, hunt and eat carrion. They communicate with sounds, body language and facial features. They even use smells, marking their territory during den season with urine, scat and body odor.
The reason you hear coyote howls at night is because they are nocturnal. They are most active at dusk and again just before sunrise. They can run an average of 25 miles per hour. At a full-out sprint, this predator has been clocked in at 43 miles per hour for short spurts.
While most animals struggle with habitat loss due to humans moving in, coyotes have adapted. Their range — the area where they live — has increased by learning how to live alongside humans in cities and suburbs. However, they prefer forests, the edge of woodlands or prairies.
You might not see them, but know coyotes are out there! Just keep an ear out for their howls or an eye out for their footprint or scat. We’re lucky to have them — predators are important for a healthy ecosystem.
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