Due to misconceptions and fears about coyotes, many people don't recognize the beneficial aspects that coyotes contribute to our ecosystem. Predators, such as the coyote, serve a valuable function in keeping prey species in balance with their habitat.
Populations of small animals, such as rodents, could increase out of control without predators. Coyotes can reduce the number of small animals that farmers, gardeners, and home owners consider as pests, such as woodchucks and rodents.
While coyotes may change ecological balances of predator and prey species, they will not eliminate other species from the environment.
Many scavenger animals, such as foxes, fishers, and ravens, benefit from coyote predation on other animals through increased food availability from leftover carcasses.
Many members of the public benefit directly from coyotes through observation, photography, hunting, and trapping opportunities.
Coyotes are usually shy and elusive, but are frequently seen individually, in pairs, or in small groups where food is commonly found. A family group, more commonly known as a pack, consists of the parents, their pups, and, occasionally, the previous year's pups. Thus, the size of the family can vary widely.
Male and female coyotes pair up, establish a territory, and breed in February or March. 4 to 8 pups are born in April or May.
Activity is variable; they can be active night or day, and sightings at dawn or dusk are common. They remain active all year-round and do not hibernate. Once a coyote has established itself into an area, it will actively maintain a territory that may vary in size from 2 to 30 square miles. One family of coyotes often encompasses one or more residential suburban areas or towns.
Coyotes are highly territorial and actively keep non-family members outside their territory, both individual coyotes and other family groups.
It defends its territory through howling, scent marking, body displays, and confrontation with the trespassing coyote.
A Coyote's Howl
When one hears a family of coyotes howling, it is easy to get the impression that the area is overflowing with coyotes. In reality, there are usually just 2-6 coyotes, including the pups. Howling is the main way for coyotes to communicate with others.
Although some people find it unnerving, this howl serves many purposes, none of which are malicious:
- Coyotes are telling non-family members to stay out of their territory.
- Family members howl as a means to locate each other within their territory.
- Pups practice howling and can be very vocal in late summer as they attempt to mimic their parents.
- When there is a potential threat towards the pups, the older coyotes will scatter throughout the area and howl in order to distract the threat away from the den site.
Counting coyotes by listening to their howls can be quite difficult, even to a trained ear. Usually it takes a trained researcher, familiar with the vocalizations of the pack, to differentiate the howls of individuals; two coyotes howling with their pups can often sound like many more.
If an immediate threat exists to human life and limb, public safety officials including ACOs, police departments, and the Massachusetts Environmental Police, have the authority to respond to and dispatch the animal as stipulated in the Code of Massachusetts Regulations (CMR) 2.14 that pertain to handling problem animals. This includes animals exhibiting clear signs of rabies.
If possible, MassWildlife should first be contacted to authorize the lethal taking of a coyote.
Coyotes taking pets are not considered an immediate threat to human safety, therefore ACO's and municipal police departments are not authorized to remove these wild animals.