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San Clemente Journal

Song Dog - Wild Life in San Clemente

Mar 03, 2020 09:44AM ● By Donia Moore
by Donia Moore

Wile E Coyote was an aptly named cartoon character in the ‘50s. Although the Roadrunner was continually outsmarting him in the cartoon version, the coyote would probably come out the winner in real life.

The word coyote comes from the Aztec word coyotl, meaning Song Dog or Barking Dog. Also called Prairie Wolf or Brush Wolf, they are believed to have split off from the European grey wolf. 
Coyotes are a native species in their own right, differing from wolves in vocalization patterns, ecology and pack structure. Their scientific name, canis latrans, actually means barking dog. 
The coyotes’ mournful song in the evening or near dawn is a familiar part of our San Clemente landscape. Famous for howling at the moon, coyotes hunt at night and howl to communicate their location. They are also known for being wily; in fact, they are very smart creatures and have a heightened sense of hearing, smell and sight.  According to the Native Animal Rescue Center in Santa Cruz, their average life span in the wild is six – eight years. 


Seeing is Believing
 If you have not been privileged to actually see a coyote, they are beautiful animals resembling a small German shepherd dog with the exception of the long snout and bushy, black-tipped tail. Their high pitched, yodel-like yapping can often be heard at night and the sound can travel up to three miles or more. 

As big as medium-size dogs, coyotes are smaller than wolves. They are 32 to 37 inches (81 to 94 centimeters) from head to rump, according to National Geographic. Their tail adds another 16 inches to their length. They typically weigh about 20 to 50 lbs. with fur that may be gray, white, tan or brown, depending on where they live. Coyotes living in the mountains have darker coats than ones that live in the desert who have lighter coats.

Male coyotes are typically heavier than females. Females bear an average of five to ten pups annually. They mate in February and pups are usually born in April or May. At 10 weeks of age, the pups are old enough to join in on hunts. At about seven to eight months, the pups are then ready to leave their parents.

When You See Them
Coyotes can be active day or night, and sightings at dawn or dusk are common. They remain active all year round and do not hibernate. They are highly territorial, and actively keep non-family members outside their territory. Having exceptional senses of smell, vision, and hearing, they usually hunt alone or in pairs. They have been known to take turns in chasing and catching prey. And yes, they can leap or climb six- foot fences like they aren’t there.

Observing coyotes and other wildlife is one of the many benefits of living near their habitat. However, when well-meaning people feed these animals they can become unnaturally bold. Due to the rapid loss of their natural habitat by development, many have been forced to cohabit with humans. We humans need to learn to coexist with this native species. 

Humans are the coyote’s chief enemy. It has been estimated that 30 to 50% of all adult coyotes die each year from human-related causes. Humans often mistake their behavior of escorting for a pre-attack move. Coyotes will occasionally escort potential dangers to their territories off their range by staying close by and appearing to follow the threat until it leaves the area.

19 Species of Coyote
While we tend to think of coyotes as a single species of dog-like canine, there are actually 19 different species throughout the US, including those in San Clemente. Because of this wide dispersal, they are classified by genetic differences and home range. 

In San Clemente, we are more familiar with the Western Coyotes species, six of which live in western North America. Three subspecies that are almost identical - California Valley, San Pedro Martir and Peninsula - range from California down into Mexico's Baja California Peninsula. The Northern coyote traverses from central Canada to Alaska. Four subspecies of Central US coyotes populating the more central states include the plains coyote (from central Canada down to Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas; this subspecies, one of the smallest, has a pale coat); the Texas plains coyote (western Texas and eastern New Mexico); the Mearns coyote (in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico and down into northern Mexico); the lower Rio Grande coyote (a small range, from extreme southern Texas into northern Mexico). Eastern coyotes and Central American coyotes fit into this subspecies. The mountain coyote ranges from Washington up through Canada and southern Alaska. The darker Northwest Coast coyote lives on the coasts of Washington and Oregon. 

The two subspecies of the more eastern United States have some notable differences from other subspecies. The northeastern coyote ranges from the Great Lakes region to western New York. Members of this subspecies tend to have larger teeth than other coyotes. The southeastern coyotes are the largest, and they have hints of red in their coat. This subspecies' size and coloring might indicate interbreeding with red wolves. It inhabits most of the U.S. 

Central America and Mexico are home to the largest number of subspecies, with seven types. The Tiburon coyote lives only on the island of Tiburon off the west coast of Mexico; it's a strong swimmer compared to some other subspecies. The other six subspecies in this area are almost indistinguishable from each other, and their populations overlap throughout the region. These are the Durango, Mexican, Colima, Belize, Honduras and Salvador subspecies.

Benefits of Coyotes
Coyotes are important to our ecosystems because they keep the balance of nature in order. For humans to coexist with these wild creatures, education is the sole solution.

Coyotes contribute many beneficial aspects to our ecosystem. They are helpful to farmers, ranchers, gardeners, and homeowners. They kill destructive, vegetation-eating rodents which make up 80% of their diet. Natural rodent control is always preferable to man-made poisons and inhumane traps. They also eat insects and have saved many farms from insect invasions.
Coyotes almost certainly do humans more good than harm; however, they are opportunistic feeders. They will feed on whatever is most readily available and easy to obtain. Their primary foods are fruits, berries, rodents, and insects but they will scavenge on animal remains as well as garbage and pet foods left outdoors. In suburban areas, they have been known to prey on unprotected pets. Everything a coyote does is related to a potential meal. 

Perhaps at some point in time, we will learn to live in harmony with coyotes and other creatures that, like us, just want to find a safe place to raise their young. Two hundred years of costly persecution has not eliminated the resilient coyote from our landscape, and I for one hope that the wily coyote remains.

Here are the top 10 suggestions from the Native Animal Rescue Center to make your property less attractive to coyotes. Be aware that trapping and relocating coyotes is 
inhumane and illegal and not a viable alternative.

•  Don’t feed coyotes.  Keep wild things wild!

•  Don’t approach or try to pet a coyote. This may provoke them.

•  Feed pets indoors. Outdoor feeding attracts many wild animals.

•  Secure your garbage. Coyotes, like dogs and raccoons, will knock over trash cans or tear open trash bags.

•  Close off crawl spaces under porches and sheds. Coyotes use such areas for resting and raising young.

•  Secure your pets. Coyotes view pets as potential food. Pets should not be left outdoors unattended.

•  Trim and clear near ground level any shrubbery that provides cover for coyotes or prey.

•  Actively discourage coyotes with loud noises, flashing lights, recorded human voices such as radio talk shows, and 
ammonia-soaked rags.

•  Coyotes are attracted to and can mate with unspayed or 
unneutered dogs. Spay and neuter your dogs.

•  Educate your neighbors by passing this information along.

Perhaps at some point in time, we will learn to live in harmony 
with coyotes and other creatures that, like us, just want to find a safe place to raise their young. Two hundred years of costly persecution has not eliminated the resilient coyote from our landscape, and I for one hope that the wily coyote remains.

For more information on coyotes, call Native Animal Rescue at (831)462-0726 or visit