Deer in Spring Landscape

Coyotes in Maryland

Color photograph of coyote running in fieldDescription

Coyotes possess typical canine features and generally resemble a small German shepherd dog. They have large erect ears, an elongated sharp muzzle, and a long bushy tail. Overall pelt coloration tends to be brown or buff interspersed with mottled gray or black. The chin, throat, chest and stomach are usually a lighter shade of brown or cream. The lower frontal portion of the legs may display black stockings and the tail has a black tip. Non-typical color phases occur infrequently. The predominant pelage coloration of individual coyotes occasionally includes red or black and various gradients between the two.

Average adult weights range from approximately 30 to 40 lbs., with some individuals approaching 60lbs. Total length can exceed 60 inches, and shoulder height varies between 11/2 to 2 feet. Males may be 20% larger than females. Coyotes from the northeastern US tend to be significantly larger than those found west of the Mississippi River.

Distribution & Population Characteristics

Coyotes were historically a western species with core populations found west of the Mississippi River. Alterations and/or elimination of competing predators during the post-European colonization period facilitated rapid range expansion into eastern North America during the 20th Century. Established populations now occur in every state and province in North America.

Coyotes are a relatively new addition to local ecosystems, and were first documented in Maryland during 1972. Initial substantiated sightings occurred in Cecil, Frederick and Washington counties. Since that time population densities and occupied range have expanded incrementally and coyotes now occur statewide. Current trends appear to display a declining distribution gradient when proceeding in a west to east direction across the state. Highest densities are witnessed in western Maryland, and the lowest occur on the eastern shore.

Detailed quantitative population assessments of Maryland's coyote population have recently been initiated. It is expected that this analysis will support current trend information that suggests population growth patterns closely mimic those found in all other states east of the Mississippi River. Recent analysis in Virginia has verified an approximate 29% annual growth rate in its coyote population. Maryland and Virginia share similar habitat types and land use patterns. Therefore, it is probable that Maryland's coyote population is displaying comparable trend characteristics.

Close-up photo of coyote faceNatural History

Coyotes reach sexual maturity by 1 year of age, and normally remain fertile throughout their life. Breeding season encompasses late January through March, with peak activities occurring during February. Gestation periods extend approximately 60-63 days, and litters average 5-6 pups.

The coyotes' rapid range expansion throughout North America substantiates their adaptability and ability to thrive in a variety of habitat types. In Maryland, coyote occupy most of the state's habitat types. Highest densities currently occur in intermixed woodland/farmland areas. However, it is probable that population densities will continue to increase in remaining habitat types, including Maryland's rapidly increasing suburban corridor.

Coyotes also have extremely broad food habits. Dietary items range from plant material and insects to deer and domestic animals. Although small mammals (mice, rabbits, etc) and birds are typically the most important food items during certain periods of the year, coyote capitalize on seasonally and locally abundant food sources. During certain periods, insects and plants may predominate, while at other times carrion or livestock may be preferred.

Ecological Implications

Maryland and Delaware have the distinction of being the last two states in the contiguous United States to be colonized by coyotes. Maryland is quite fortunate to have the unique perspective of witnessing the ecological and social impacts of established coyote populations in other states. It is a biological certainty that Maryland will share many of the same experiences. Regardless of geographic location, eastern coyotes all possess the same basic genetic material and exhibit essentially the same behavioral traits and population characteristics.

Impacts on natural communities are also fairly predictable and can negatively impact various sympatric native species. Establishment in unoccupied regions of the eastern US, coyotes have assumed the role of top-order predator. Consequently, they tend to fundamentally alter existing ecosystem structure and function. Various species experience population declines as a result of their status as coyote prey, or from direct competition for existing resources.

Culturally and ecologically significant species including red fox decline dramatically in response to increasing coyote populations. Eastern coyote and red fox share many common habitat requirements and occupy overlapping niches. Through time, the larger and more resilient coyote is able to out-compete and displace resident red fox populations. As a result, red fox are typically delegated to existence in small areas devoid of individual coyote home ranges. Diminishing red fox populations have currently been noted in portions of central and western Maryland.

Lesser, yet still significant changes are expected in gray fox, bobcat and other associated predator and prey populations. Long-term impacts on white-tailed deer are not completely known in the East. Coyote food habit studies regularly show consistent use of deer as food. However, it does not appear that coyote limit deer populations on a regional scale at this time.

Social Implications

Public opinion concerning coyotes evolves in a very predictable fashion. As coyote first appear in an area, they are novel and receive a great deal of interest. As population densities and associated nuisance complaints increase through time, public opinion quickly changes from novel fascination, to "I do not want this animal in my neighborhood" Few, if any other wildlife species evoke as widespread and passionate disdain by the general public as coyotes.

Throughout North America, livestock and crop depredations attributed to coyotes pose a substantial threat to agricultural producers. Nationally, in excess of 6 million tax dollars are expended annually to address coyote damage complaints. Additionally, coyotes typically become established in suburban areas and efficiently prey on local dogs and cats. In fact, a localized indicator of the presence of coyotes is a rapid decline in the free ranging cat population. Livestock and pet losses have been experienced in Maryland, with frequency of occurrence paralleling increasing coyote populations.

Cultural impacts fall into two categories: generalized problems such as pet loss, and localized situations involving livestock loss. Pet loss is similar to biological impacts in that no management scheme is available to address general, widespread problems. However, localized situations involving livestock loss can be addressed and problems either alleviated or resolved. After depredations have occurred, studies document that spot removal of offending animals is the most efficient solution. Husbandry techniques may mitigate some problems; nonetheless they are not an all inclusive panacea. Current management approaches recommend that improved husbandry practices be used in conjunction with a pro-active harvest control program. Technical information provided by the professional wildlife and/or agricultural communities is widely available, and when implemented can reduce the site-specific vulnerability of livestock to coyote depredations.

Regulatory History

Prior to 1995 there was no mention of coyotes in Maryland statute or regulation and it was unclear what, if any, management options were permissible for this species. Realizing these inconsistencies, DNR supported legislation that provided for the legal classification of coyotes as a "Fur-Bearing Mammal", subject to several sunset clauses. This authorized the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to independently develop management strategies and harvest regulations for this species. Subsequent amendments prescribed certain management options to be instituted by DNR.

Specifically these amendments allow for the incidental take of coyotes while a hunter is legally pursuing other game species, and a year round harvest season by predator calling. The amendments further authorized DNR to establish a trapping season for coyotes with harvest regulations determined by DNR. Trapping seasons are established annually by regulation and are concurrent with fox trapping seasons in individual counties.

During the 2000 legislative session the General Assembly repealed the sunset clause provisions, thus affording the coyote permanent statutory classification as a "Fur-Bearing Mammal".

Management/ Research Activities

Annual hunting and trapping seasons for coyotes have been established. These harvest seasons allow DNR the flexibility necessary to pro-actively address some of the aforementioned ecological and social concerns. Additionally, they also supply the public with new and challenging recreational opportunities. Information about seasons, bag limits, and methods of take for coyote and other furbearers can be found on DNR's web page at http://www.dnr.state.md.us/huntersguide/

DNR conducted its first annual Bow Hunters Survey during the 2002-03 hunting season, and intends to repeat it in successive years for the foreseeable future. The survey was mailed to more than 10,000 successful bow hunters from the 2002-03 hunting season. The survey questionnaire was designed to capture observational data from bow Hunters about furbearers and numerous other wildlife species. Respondents recorded the length of individual hunts, and the species and number of animals observed during each hunt. The resulting data will document the number of animals viewed by species and per hour on a local and statewide basis. The repetitive design of this survey and its relatively large sampling base will provide another tool that enables DNR to accurately estimate population trends on a yearly basis. This type of information furnishes the foundation for development of responsive harvest regulations for coyotes and other furbearers.

Coyote Problems

DNR has contracted with the USDA Wildlife Services to establish a public access nuisance animal hotline. Wildlife Service specialists are available to provide technical guidance or facilitate contacts with professional Nuisance Wildlife Cooperators. Individuals that are experiencing problems with coyotes or other wildlife species are encouraged to call (877) 463-6497.

Additional Information

The following books contain excellent technical information:

  • Wild Mammals of North America: Biology- Management-Economics. J.A. Chapman and G.A. Feldhamer editors. Published by Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore Maryland.
  • Wild Furbearer Management and Conservation in North America. M. Novak, J.A. Baker, M.E. Obbard, and B. Malloch editors. Published by the Ontario Trappers Association under the authority of the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, North Bay Canada.