The coyote roams from coast to coast, from the rural to the urban, from the open prairies of the Great Plains to the dense Smoky Mountain forests. Despite being hunted for fur, hunted for sport, trapped, poisoned and shot on sight by livestock herders and bounty hunters the coyote now flourishes in parts of the country where they previously unknown.
Prior to the 1960s, coyote were unheard of east of the Mississippi River. Even in the early 80s coyote were a rare sight in East Tennessee. But, since then coyote populations have made it all the way to the east coast, and, in East Tennessee “I’d have to say that coyote are common,” said wildlife biologist Dave Brandenburg, with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
While there isn’t any clear consensus on why coyotes have migrated to the eastern U.S., their intelligence and adaptive nature have ensured their population in a way that even systematic extermination efforts couldn’t diminish.
According to Brandenburg, coyotes have even thrived in large cities: “one of the densest populations of coyotes is in Los Angeles,” also the site of the one the densest populations of people in the country.
“You know how populated Gatlinburg is,” said Brandenburg in another example. “I hear them frequently at night,” he added.
A major part of their adaptability is that “they can eat just about anything,” said Brandenburg. In the wild, coyote feed on small rodents, fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables. In urban areas they are known to feed on pet food and garbage.
Also worthy predators, coyotes are able to run at speeds approaching 40 m.p.h. and make 14-foot leaps to pounce at their prey. They generally hunt by themselves, but they’ve been known to combine efforts in the pursuit of prey.
“There’s not much you can do because they’re so intelligent,” said Brandenburg. “People just have to learn to live with them.”
“Coyotes get a bad rap, really,” said Brandenburg. While acknowledging that a coyote could, and sometimes do, take down livestock, according to Brandenburg it’s more likely that the animal would have died by some other means than by the grip of a coyote. “Coyotes are very opportunistic animals,” said Brandenburg, which sometimes equates to feeding off of animal carcasses that were already-dead.
When livestock farmers see a coyote feeding on a member of their herd, they assume that the coyote must have killed animal. Brandenburg contends, “In my opinion, it’s more likely that stray dogs had killed them,” or that the animal had died from natural causes.
Despite extensive use of control techniques across the country, coyote remain a dominate feature of the North American landscape. Efforts to poison carcasses to detour coyotes from areas have produced inconsistent results. Here in Tennessee, coyote hunting season lasts year round with no limits.
Though across the country, the coyote persist and mid-evening skies light up with the yips and howls of a tried and true survivor.