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Photo: Coyote
Coyotes are familiar creatures in the Columbia Basin.

Graphic: What About Coyotes?

Graphic: Background Information...

What is a coyote?
Coyotes, members of the dog family, are mammals. You may have seen or heard them around the Tri-Cities area, but even if you haven't, chances are they are nearby. Until recently, the "little wolf," as Native Americans called the animal, populated only arid lands in the southwestern United States and Mexico. Now, however, coyotes have expanded their territory to include all states except Hawaii. Their habitats range from low-lying desert regions in Central America and Mexico to the mountainous regions of Alaska.

What do coyotes look like?
In the Columbia Basin, coyotes generally are a grayish, tawny brown with a light-colored belly and bushy tail that's black at the tip. If you happen to see a coyote, say somewhere in Franklin County, it likely will be about the same size as a small German shepherd and weigh 20 to 35 pounds. In mountainous regions, coyotes are predominantly gray with a nearly white belly and may have a white-tipped tail. They also are somewhat larger (up to about 55 pounds). All coyotes have prominent ears and distinguishing yellow eyes. In winter, when coyotes' fur grows thicker and silkier, they are hunted more often. Coyote tracks closely resemble those of a dog or fox, although coyotes tend to follow a straight path across open areas while other similar mammals wander according to the landscape. You'll recognize a coyote running with its tail held down between its hind legs, though sometimes you will have to look quickly because coyotes can run up to 40 miles per hour.

Drawing: Coyote Tracks

How do coyotes live?
In the shrub-steppe, coyotes usually dig their own dens, but occasionally they enlarge an old badger hole or use a natural hole in a rocky ledge. They do not hibernate but hunt a 10- to 12-square-mile territory during the night and day to catch their prey. Coyotes bear one litter of from three to nine pups per year, and the female raises the pups primarily alone. These little wolves communicate by howling many times across wide canyons. You may recognize this high-pitched yap. Coyotes also have very keen senses of smell and hearing. This, coupled with a cunning evasiveness, enables the coyote to thrive both in wild and suburban areas.

What do coyotes eat?
Food studies have shown coyotes' principal diet to be deer, rabbits, ground squirrels, other small rodents, insects, fruits, and berries. They adapt very well to whatever food source is available; they even will eat spoiled food if the need arises. Although coyotes have been observed killing sheep and other livestock, domestic animals are not the first choice for these mammals. But, because they have been known to have a domestic brunch or two, they have been labeled a nuisance. Many coyotes have been killed to keep the risk down.

Graphic: Notes..."Science is constructed of facts as a house is of stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house." Henri Poincare

Keep in mind this fact sheet is intended to be used only as background information to support your effort to encourage inquiry-based science, which parallels the way scientists uncover knowledge and solve problems.

Graphic: Suggested Activities...

Coyote Stories
Many stories told by Native Americans in the Columbia Basin use coyote as an important character. Go to the library and search for books that contain stories about coyote. Once you have read the stories, list the characteristics of coyote. How is coyote portrayed? Why do you think coyote was portrayed this way? What lesson is the story trying to teach? How is coyote in the stories like the real animal? Check one of the websites, or read a field guide to learn about the natural history of the coyote. Write your own coyote story based on what you find out about coyotes.

Graphic: Shrub-Steppe Ecology Series Logo

Expanding range
The coyote has been successful at expanding its range. Why do you think coyotes have been so successful at expanding their range? Why weren't coyotes always found throughout their present range? Questions you might want to research to answer these questions include: How much does a coyote need to eat? Does the amount of food available affect the number of pups born or their chances for survival? Do coyotes hunt together or are they loners? Do they work together in other ways? Does working together in a "pack" help all the animals survive?

Graphic: Using Community Resources...

  1. Travel to the visitor centers at Ice Harbor and McNary dams.
    The Ice Harbor Dam visitor center has a viewing area where you can watch the fish pass through, and McNary Dam has two fish-viewing rooms along the fish ladders. Try to identify salmon. Look at the center's exhibits of the life cycle of Pacific salmon. McNary Dam also has a film presentation and interactive computers.
  2. Arrange for a fisheries biologist to come to your classroom.
    Call the Department of Fish and Wildlife (360) 902-2200; the Lyons Ferry Trout Hatchery (509)-646-3252. You also could call fisheries biologists Dave Geist (372-0590) or Dennis Dauble (376-3631) at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.

Graphic: Other Resources...

  1. Great Explorations in Math and Science (GEMS), University of California, Berkeley, California, Animal Defenses (Preschool-K), School Yard Ecology (3-6), Animals in Action (5-9).
  2. Shrub-Steppe Seasons: A Natural History of Mid-Columbia Basin, Lee E. Rogers, 1995. Pacific Northwest Laboratory, Richland, Washington.
  3. The Peterson Field Guide Series: A Field Guide to Mammals, W.H. Burt and R.P. Grossenheider, 1976. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, Massachusetts.
  4. Coyote Places the Stars, Harriet Peck-Tayor, 1993. Simon & Schuster, New York, New York.
  5. Giving Birth to Thunder Sleeping with His Daughter: Coyote Builds North America, Barry Lopez, 1977. Avon Books, New York, New York.
  6. I Am of This Land - Wildlife of the Hanford Site, Dan Landeen and Jeremy Crow, 1997. Western Printing, Clarkston, Washington.

Graphic: Web Sites...

  1. The Coyote -
  2. Coyote BC Adventure -
  3. Desert USA Coyotes -
  4. National Geographic -

Graphic: Acknowledgments...

Initial development and printing of this fact sheet was funded by an Eisenhower Grant to the Partnership for Arid Lands Stewardship. Written by Marilyn Fike; Series Editor: Georganne O'Connor; Design: WinSome Design; Printing: Eagle Printing and Graphic Design; First Printing: December 1997; Web Development: WinSome Design.

Graphic: Shrub-Steppe Ecology Series


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