A Few Minutes in the Life of a Coyote
“Are there any bison around today?”
“How often do you see wolves near here?”
“I guess we won’t be seeing any bears this time of year, huh?”
“Where would we have the best chance of seeing a moose?”
Visitors to the Old Faithful area often ask about seeing wildlife, but few people ever inquire after coyotes. I wish they would: coyotes are fascinating animals that are easy to see and fun to watch. The scrappy canids weigh in at around 25-35 pounds and are perhaps the most frequently-observed carnivores in Yellowstone.
When I call coyotes carnivores, I mean they are members of the order Carnivora. Functionally, coyotes are omnivores, eating whatever they can hunt or scavenge—not just meat. Their omnivorous habits combine with a keen intelligence to make coyotes versatile and adaptable creatures. They dwell among us in urban areas, suburbs, and rural communities, as well as in parks and other wild lands.
In the wild, coyotes hunt small mammals like mice, voles, and ground squirrels. It’s great fun to watch coyotes at work in the winter months, when they use their keen sense of hearing to detect prey under the snow. Yesterday I had the chance to photograph a coyote as it trotted along a nearby trail in the Upper Geyser Basin. (All pictures were taken with a 20x zoom. I’m not nearly as close to this animal as it may appear. In Yellowstone, people are required to maintain a minimum of 25 yards distance from wildlife.)
Besides tasty rodents, the diet of a Yellowstone coyote may include scraps spilling over from trash cans or lunch leftovers carelessly left behind by park visitors. Keeping human foods away from coyotes is important—a coyote that approaches people to solicit food must be hazed or, sometimes, put down. I’ve seen many a coyote scat in Yellowstone with bits of plastic wrapper embedded in it. Please do your part to keep human foods and trash away from wildlife.
Learn more about coyotes in Yellowstone on the park website.