Background: Coyotes were not originally found in Connecticut, but have extended their range eastward during the last 100 years from the western plains and midwestern United States, through Canada and into the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. Coyotes were first reported in Connecticut in the mid-1950s. For the next 10 years, most coyote reports were from northwestern Connecticut. Coyotes eventually expanded their range throughout the entire state and are now a part of Connecticut’s ecosystem. The coyote is one wildlife species that has adapted to human-disturbed environments and can thrive in close proximity to populated areas.
Range: Originally an inhabitant of the western plains of the United States, the coyote now occurs from Alaska south into Central America and east from the Atlantic Provinces to the southeastern United States.
Description: A typical coyote resembles a small, lanky German shepherd, but several characteristics distinguish it from a dog. Coyotes tend to be more slender and have wide, pointed ears; a long, tapered muzzle; yellow eyes; slender legs; small feet; and a straight, bushy tail which is carried low to the ground. The pelage (fur) is usually a grizzled-gray color with a cream-colored or white underside, but coloration is variable with individuals having blonde, reddish, and charcoal coat colors. Coat color does not vary between the sexes. Most coyotes have dark hairs over the back and a black-tipped tail, which has a black spot near its base covering a distinctive scent gland. However, not all coyotes have the black markings.
The eastern coyote is larger than its western counterpart. Most adults are about 48-60 inches long from nose to tail and weigh between 30 to 50 pounds, with males typically weighing more than females.
Habitat and Diet: Coyotes are opportunistic and use a variety of habitats, including developed areas like wooded suburbs, parks, beaches, and office parks. Their ability to survive and take advantage of food sources found in and around these “man-made” habitats has resulted in an increase in coyote sightings and related conflicts. A coyote’s diet consists predominantly of mice, woodchucks, squirrels, rabbits, deer, some fruits, carrion, and when available, garbage. Some coyotes will also prey on small livestock, poultry, and small pets. In Connecticut, unsupervised pets, particularly outdoor cats and small dogs (less than 25 pounds) are vulnerable to coyote attacks.
Life History: Coyotes are monogamous. The male and female usually maintain pair bonds for several years. In Connecticut, the breeding season is from January to March, and the gestation period is about 63 days. Although adults can dig their own dens, they often enlarge an abandoned woodchuck or fox burrow. Pups are born in spring (April to mid-May), and litters range in size from 1 to as many as 12 pups; the average in Connecticut is 7. Both adults care for the young and will readily move them if disturbed. Pups are weaned at about 6 to 8 weeks and begin foraging and hunting with the adults when they are 8 to 13 weeks old.
The family group usually breaks up in fall or early winter when the young disperse. Young coyotes may travel long distances in search of new territories, giving this species a rapid potential for colonization. Although nearly full grown by their ninth month, eastern coyotes may not breed until they are nearly 2 years old.
Interesting Facts: Eastern coyotes are generally larger in size than their western counterparts. Recent genetic research has attributed the eastern coyote's larger size to interbreeding with Canadian gray wolves.
Coyotes are biologically able to reproduce with domestic dogs, although because of several barriers, they rarely do. For instance, both male and female coyotes are fertile for only a short time during the year. Also, young coydogs rarely survive because male domestic dogs that breed with female coyotes do not remain with her to assist with parental care. The offspring of a coyote/domestic dog mating are often infertile.
Coyotes use a variety of vocalizations to communicate with one another. Howls, yelps, and high-pitched cries are best known, but they also bark, growl, wail, and squeal. Family groups yelping in unison can create the illusion of a dozen or more performing together. Coyotes are most often heard around dawn and dusk. However, they may respond to sirens and fire whistles at any time of day or night.
A coyote’s social unit consists of the adult pair and their young; they may be encountered singly, in pairs, or in groups of three or more. Mated pairs maintain territories which are scent-marked and defended against other coyotes as well as foxes.
A coyote's sense of hearing, sight, and smell are well developed.
Coyotes normally run as fast as 25 to 30 miles an hour, but can run 35 to 40 miles an hour when pursued. They are also strong swimmers.
Visit our Living with Coyotes webpage for information on coexisting with coyotes and dealing with any problems.
Content last updated in March 2023.