Coyotes have invaded Georgia by storm — and the conquest only took a few decades. In 1969, coyote populations were confirmed by hunters, trappers or road-kills in only about 23 counties. Today, coyotes call all 159 counties home.
Coyotes received a helping hand in their invasion of Georgia and the Southeast by fox hunters who released coyotes for their dogs, but they were heading this way from the West and Midwest anyhow. Land-use changes in the eastern United states that created agriculture, edges and clearcuts have benefitted coyotes by increasing the prey base. But the main trait that has made coyotes so successful is that they are extremely adaptable. A biologist would say that coyotes have non-specific needs for habitat and food, which means they can live nearly anywhere and survive by eating nearly anything available. They can fluorish in nearly any habitat from mountain tops to coastal marshes, arctic tundra to Central America’s jungles. And they are not finicky eaters, nearly everything is on the menu. Coyotes will eat whatever they can catch, including, but not limited to: rabbits, mice and other rodents, grasshoppers, watermelon, persimmons, deer (mostly fawns), dog food off your back porch, house cats, small dogs, squirrels, oppossums, corn, chickens, raccoons, snakes, berries and birds — and they aren’t above feasting on roadkills or scavenging through household garbage.
Coyotes are a medium-sized canine. The males range in size from 25 to 40 pounds. Females range from 22 to 35 pounds. Coyotes may vary from reddish brown to black, but the standard-issue coloration is brownish-gray with dark highlights on the shoulders and back, and a creamy underbelly. A bushy tail is held straight behind the body. An adult coyote is 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 feet long from nose to tail.
Coyote tracks are more elongated compared to the round pad of a dog’s foot. Their scat is similar in appearance to a dog’s except that it is often hairy from non-digested rodent or deer hair. In the late summer the scat is often loaded with persimmon seeds.
Coyotes mate in February and have from five to seven pups in April in a den in a hollow tree or burrow. The number of pups and the number of breeding females varies according to the prey base. When prey is abundant, litter size increases and more females breed. The pups are weaned at about six weeks but usually stay with the adults until they disperse in the fall.
The high-pitched yipping, yowling and barking of coyotes is a common sound on a summer night in Georgia. The coyotes communicate with each other with the calls, but a train whistle or a low-flying airplane at night may set off a dischordant chorus of “song-dogs.” The word “coyote” comes from the Aztec Indian word coyotl, which also means “barking dog.”
Coyotes are often the prime suspect when livestock goes missing. While they will attempt to take a shoat or calf when the opportunity arises, many biologists believe free-roaming and feral dogs cause more damage to livestock than coyotes.
More often, rabbits and rodents are the mainstay of a coyote’s diet. Small prey animals are killed with a bite to the back or the head. Larger prey is killed by biting it in the throat behind the jaw and below the ear. Death is caused by suffocation and shock.
Given the opportunity, coyotes will take a deer fawn, but they are not usually capable of taking a mature deer unless it is sick or injured.
Turkey poults are also on the menu. Many turkey hunters will attest to the coyote’s interest in turkeys from the number of times coyotes have come in to investigate turkey calling. However, deer, turkeys and coyotes usually share the same property, and in Georgia, coyotes are not a limiting factor to either deer or turkey populations. Many areas have high populations of all three animals.
In Georgia, coyotes are considered nongame animals, and they can be hunted year-round with few limitations. You can hunt them with any legal weapon; electronic calls may be used (except on WMAs); and they can be hunted at night with a light that does not exceed six volts.
The vast majority of coyotes killed by hunters in Georgia are likely victims of happenstance. According to WRD small-game hunter telephone surveys in 2001-02, 6,382 hunters killed 15,955 coyotes. Based on the results of WRD mail surveys during the 1980s and ’90s, more than 80 percent of the coyotes shot are killed by deer hunters sitting in a stand when a coyote happened by or by turkey hunters who called one up during a spring hunt.