As it weaves through the landscape, only the movement of the coyote catches your eye. Otherwise these intelligent wild dogs blend perfectly into the desert habitat. They also blend into cities and suburbs, where they hunt in parks and greenbelts. Living invisibly right outside of our awareness, coyotes make a career of finding food to survive.
One source claimed a desert coyote’s diet to be 40% plant matter – dried seed pods of mesquite or ironwood, as well as cactus pads and grasses. Coyote hunts cottontails and jackrabbits, the entire range of rodents, snakes, quails, and is not above munching up insects and even carrion. This may sound like a desperate character, but coyote has a bold stare, and trots along with a devil may care attitude. Coyote’s “trickster” reputation is well earned.
I’ve looked up on several hikes to find the yellow eyes of a coyote observing me from a ridge, or a rocky shelf. The stare is wary and at any moment the coyote will turn and vanish. A coyote pup materialized out of the predawn darkness at the schoolground where I’d taken my shepherd for a run. He tried to instigate play. Some say this is a trap, the single coyote leads your beloved pet into the desert where the rest of the family waits to pounce. But it seemed to me like this pup was simply curious about my white, coyote-shaped dog.
Coyotes mate for life and pups from a previous brood often stay on for another season, helping to hunt for the new babies before striking out on their own. Desert coyotes are about half the size of other coyotes, at 20 pounds or so, and their coat is shorter, thinner, allowing for heat to more easily dissipate.
Coyotes yip, bark, whine, growl and howl, as well as using non-verbal cues like tail wagging, lip curling and scent marking. Put into a range of combinations, the sophisticated language facilitates a layered social structure involving group activities from hunting and courtship to play. Hearing coyotes howl at night is one of my favorite things about the desert. Our dog Lexie used to raise her rounded lips to the heavens and howl right along, making sure we never missed a serenade.