The coyote resembles a small German shepherd dog, but carries its tail below
the level of the back rather than curved upward. Its upper body is typically
light gray to dull yellow, but can vary from mostly black to nearly all gray or
white. Course outer hairs are usually tipped with black. The underparts are
whitish, cream colored or pinkish yellow. A coyote's muzzle is long and
narrow; its ears are erect and pointed. The average length of an adult is 44 to
54 inches, including a 15- to 17-inch tail. Weights measured during fall and
winter vary from 22 to 42 pounds.
Distribution & Abundance
Coyotes are common throughout Illinois. They're most abundant in the
southern, southeastern and west-central parts of the state. They're least
abundant in the northern two to three tiers of counties. Coyotes were rare in
Illinois for a long time after settlement of the state, but their numbers
increased dramatically during the 1970s and early 1980s.
Coyotes occur in nearly all types of habitat, including urban and suburban
areas. They are most abundant in areas with a mixture of farmland, woodland
A coyote lives in a large area, often 20 to 30 miles in diameter. Several
coyotes may share this area. A pack of coyotes consists of an extended
family that maintains a strict territory. Members of one pack rarely venture
into the territory of another.
Some coyotes do not belong to packs. These solitary coyotes tend to have
larger home ranges than pack coyotes and are less respectful of pack
boundaries. They sometimes join a pack when one of the members leaves or
Coyotes communicate with a variety of barks, yips and howls. They also
mark areas with urine, feces or gland secretions, much like domestic dogs.
Body language plays an important role in the family social structure and in
meetings between strangers. Facial expressions and body gestures can signal
a coyote's aggressive, submissive or neutral intentions.
Coyotes prefer semi-open country and like to travel on ridges or old trails.
They are most active from dusk until the early morning hours, but are
sometimes seen at other times of the day. They can run up to 43 miles per
hour for short distances. Water is rarely a barrier because coyotes swim well.
Few coyotes live past 3 to 4 years of age. The oldest coyote found in a study
conducted in Illinois during 1996 to 1997 was 13 years old.
Coyotes are Illinois' largest wild predator. Most of their diet consists of
animal matter, but they often eat insects, fruits or berries. Rabbits and mice
are important food items in Illinois and other Midwestern states.
A study conducted in Missouri showed the following food groups and their
percentages by volume: rabbits 53.7; mice and rats 8.7; other wild mammals
7.5; livestock 8.9; poultry 11.3; wild birds 0.5; known carrion 5.8; insects
0.8; plants 2.0; and miscellaneous 0.8.
In Iowa, winter foods of coyotes were composed by volume of: 51 percent
rabbits, 25.5 percent mice, 8.0 percent other mammals, 2.7 percent birds, 0.5
percent plants and miscellaneous. Coyotes sometimes eat carrion, so it's
difficult to determine whether livestock and poultry in their diet represent
A few females breed at one year of age, but most mature in their second year.
Breeding peaks in late February or early March. A female typically mates for
two to five days during this period. The gestation (pregnancy) period is 58 to
63 days. Pups are born during late April or May in a den under a hollow tree,
log, brush pile, or even an abandoned building. More often, coyotes raise
their young in a remodeled burrow dug originally by a fox, badger, or
woodchuck. Litters of 2 to 19 pups have been documented, but four to nine is
the norm. The pups are blind and helpless at birth and are covered with
brownish-gray woolly fur. Their eyes open between 8 and 14 days of age.
The young first come out of the den when they're about 21 days old but don't
remain outside for long periods until they are 5 or 6 weeks of age.
Both parents care for the young, especially after they're weaned. Hunting
short distances from the den (usually 3 to 5 miles), the parents kill and eat
what they catch, then regurgitate it for the pups when they return. The pups
begin to learn to hunt for themselves when they are 8 to 12 weeks old. The
family usually moves away from the den about this time, and often breaks up
in late summer or early fall. After they leave their parents, some young may
move up to 120 miles away in search of their own living space.
Coyotes are valuable members of the wildlife community and do more good
than harm where humans are concerned. However, they occasionally kill
livestock, poultry, domestic cats and small dogs, especially where coyotes
live in large numbers or in close association with people. Most problems
caused by coyotes can be solved by targeting and removing specific coyotes
Coyotes are harvested during regulated hunting and trapping seasons. An
average of 7,000 coyotes is harvested each year in Illinois. About 75 percent
of these are taken by hunters; 25 percent by trappers. The trapping season is
restricted to the fall and winter months, while the hunting season is open year
-round. A liberal hunting season allows landowners to remove problem
animals without having to obtain a special permit. Biologists monitor the
population to ensure that hunting and trapping do not negatively impact the
Tips to Protect Your Pets from Coyote Attacks (from the Northbrook Patch)
- Feed pets indoors or remove the dishes immediately if you feed them outside. Store pet food inside.
- Clear brush and dense weeds to remove shelter for rodents (which coyotes eat), and protective cover for coyotes.
- Put tight clamping devices on the lids of trash barrels to prevent spills if animals tip them over.
- Do not feed or provide water for coyotes or any other wildlife.
- Keep small pets, like cats, rabbits and small dogs, indoors.
- Keep larger dogs inside after dark, and don’t let them run loose.
- Let dogs outside only with direct supervision, even in a fenced yard.
- If you encounter a coyote, shout, clap, or throw something near it to help make the coyote afraid of people and to shoo it away.