Mammals of Pennsylvania and New Jersey




Background Information

Coyotes are dog-like animals that are located throughout much of Canada, United States, and Mexico. They have been hunted by fur trappers and farmers who raise animals, especially sheep farmers.

People have helped to increase the range and numbers of coyotes. When people hunted wolves and lowered their numbers, coyotes took over their territory. Today, hunting coyotes is controlled in much of our continent.

The word coyote came from the Aztec Indians of Mexico. Coyotes are known for their howling. However, they have many other sounds to “talk” to each other.

Physical Features

Coyotes look like mid-size dogs. They range between 18 to 22 inches tall, or nearly 2 feet. The length of their body ranges from 30 to 40 inches or somewhere around 3 feet. Their tails add another foot or more to their length. Their fur on their legs and face is light brown. Their backs are grayer in color. Females weigh as little as 15 pounds. Males can weigh up to 45 pounds.

Life Cycle

Coyotes mate during the winter months. They stay together for life. After mating, the female will look for an out-of-the way place to build a den. The type of land the coyotes live on will determine the type of den. Coyotes can dig their own burrows or dens, steal one from a fox, set up one in a cave, or build a den in very thick brushland.

After two months of development, about 6 pups are born. Mother will nurse the pups for about 2 months. However, after one month, coyotes mix solid food into their pup’s diet! When there is plenty of food, pups will stay with their parents and hunt in a pack. When they are old enough, they will find their own hunting grounds. They can travel more than 90 miles to set up their own territories.

Coyotes live about 4 years in the wild. If they are captured, they can live up to 22 years in a zoo.


Coyotes set up housekeeping in many habitats. However, they prefer open grassland and wooded brushland. They mark their territory with their urine. Howling and loud sounds are used to warn other animals that do not belong in their territories. Coyotes hunt mostly at night. They stalk their prey and attack. They will hunt larger animals in packs, such as deer and elk.


Coyotes are meat eaters, or carnivores. Their diet depends upon where they are living. In Pennsylvania, they eat mainly rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, and other small mammals. Coyotes will eat dead animals as well as prey they have killed. Sheep are a favorite food source for coyotes when sheep farms are in their territory. Coyotes have been known to raid garbage cans.


  © Dr. Randall Pellow, 2005