Winter is not a season for the faint-hearted. Many animals find it difficult to survive the harsh winter months because of shorter days and colder temperatures.
Some adapt to their environment, while others avoid it altogether. But what about coyotes? Where do they go during the winter?
No, Coyotes Don’t Hibernate In The Winter
Hibernation is one strategy that animals use to survive the cold season. To save energy, they hunker down in burrows, dens, or other spaces where they reduce their metabolic activity.
Some animals pass this time by entering a deep sleep state, while others remain awake but much less active.
Coyotes don’t hibernate during the winter because they cannot store energy or reduce their metabolic activity.
Not only don’t they hibernate, but the canines often become more active because they need to replace the extra calories their body burns to stay warm.
Wait… Do Coyotes At Least Migrate To Warmer Places?
Another way that some animals escape the harsh winter weather is by migrating.
According to the College of Veterinary Medicine, migration is the seasonal movement of animals from one location to another in search of food or warmer weather.
While coyotes sometimes travel long distances in the winter to find food, they don’t technically migrate. Instead, they expand their hunting ground while remaining in their home range.
In some rare circumstances, a coyote might move closer to a reliable food source. However, this still isn’t considered migration because it’s not a seasonal pattern of behavior.
Because coyotes have territories, migration would be complicated. The coyote/pack would have to abandon their territory, travel through several other heavily guarded regions, establish a new territory in a warmer area, and then repeat the steps during their return trip.
Moreover, they would make this trip during mating season, risking the lives of pregnant females and pups. Realistically, it just doesn’t make sense for coyotes to migrate—so they don’t.
10 Places Coyotes Go During the Winter
Now that we know coyotes stay put during the winter, we can look at where they spend their time.
So, where do coyotes go when the snow starts to fly?
1. Coyotes Don’t Spend the Winter in a Den
There was a time when I thought that all canine-like animals escaped the winter weather by snuggling up inside cozy dens, but this isn’t usually true.
Coyotes don’t sleep inside burrows and often only use dens during pup season. Even then, coyote puppies only spend around six weeks inside the shelter before venturing out with the adults.
Like wolves, coyotes typically live in groups called packs, which an alpha male and female lead. Only the alphas are allowed to mate and reproduce.
Alpha couples often pair up for many years and sometimes their entire lives. During this time, the team shares responsibilities such as hunting and raising their offspring. The rest of the pack serves as babysitters, helping raise the younger generations.
Even when pups are present, adult coyotes rarely venture into the den and usually only go inside to feed and care for their babies.
Were you surprised to learn that coyotes don’t sleep in dens? If so, check out these other 10 Common Coyote Myths that were debunked!
2. Coyotes Typically Stay in Their Territory
As long as they have enough food, coyotes will often stay right in one general area. However, this area can span several square miles.
Coyotes have both home ranges and territories. Home ranges are general areas where the canines live and often overlap the home range of other animals. Their territory is a different matter—they don’t share this.
Territories are the areas within their home range that the coyotes defend. According to BioWeb (a collaborative website produced by several Wisconsin universities), a coyote’s territory can span between two to forty square miles, depending on the pack’s size and prey availability.
Although rare, some packs have been known to live in territories that span up to sixty square miles!
If your backyard has become a coyote’s hunting ground, there’s a good chance they’ll remain there all winter.
Do you want to know what animals live on your property? Install trail cameras like this Motion Detection Waterproof Trail Camera from GardenPro. With infrared night vision and a camouflage design that makes it hard to spot, you’ll never miss a chance to spy on your wildlife neighbors!
3. Open Areas Are Where Coyotes Prefer to Spend Their Time
We often associate coyotes with dark forests, but the truth is coyotes like open areas better.
In fact, one The Journal of Wildlife Management found that the canines spent more time in open spaces than in wooded areas. Although, juvenile coyotes did spend more time in brushy areas than their adult peers.
Researchers believe the canines prefer open areas because they allow for better visuals and less chance of being ambushed.
People often see coyotes in:
That said, coyotes almost always stay within an hour of denser covering.
If you have a field in your backyard, you might notice coyotes roaming near the edge where the open land meets the woodlands.
4. High Ground Helps Coyotes Find Prey
Coyotes don’t have the luxury of being able to go to the grocery store. Instead, they have to hunt for food when they’re hungry. Unfortunately, as temperatures drop, food becomes a lot harder to find.
Because food is precious in the winter, coyotes will often perch themselves up high to see the area better. Doing this allows them to spot prey moving around more easily.
Some of their favorite places to rest and wait for food include hills, brush piles, rocks, and fallen trees. If they see something moving, they hop down to investigate—hopefully finding dinner.
Coyotes might also rest on a brush pile or log to get out of deep snow.
5. Coyotes Use Trees for Shelter
Anyone who lives in an area that sees harsh winters knows just how cruel a winter wind can be. Animals in these climates scramble to find cover, and trees offer some of the best shelters around.
Coyotes use trees for shelter in the winter in many ways. They might shimmy into a hollow log to escape the bitter wind or take advantage of the cave-like area a snow-heavy bow creates.
One thing you won’t likely see is a coyote sleeping in the high branches of a tree!
While they can climb trees to a certain extent, coyotes are not agile climbers. They can climb some fruit trees clumsily in search of goodies, but you probably won’t see them scaling high trees anytime soon.
Psst! Did you know coyotes were attracted to fruit trees? To learn more about more things that might attract coyotes, check out our article about why coyotes keep coming back to your yard.
6. Abandoned Buildings Are a Great Place for Coyotes to Find Shelter
Some animals have no problem inviting themselves into your house for the winter. Coyotes, fortunately, are a little more considerate—they at least wait until humans are done with the building.
Most coyotes are timid and highly wary of humans, which is one of the reasons they’ve thrived as a species. Still, the animals will take shelter in abandoned buildings if the opportunity presents itself.
Rural coyotes might take advantage of old barns, sheds, and abandoned houses, while urban coyotes may find shelter in abandoned buildings, houses, and utility buildings.
Why Are Coyotes Getting In My Barn?
Shelter might not be the only reason a coyote enters a structure. The animals have also been known to enter buildings containing livestock.
These canines are incredibly clever and can learn a human’s schedule, making it easier to slip into the building unnoticed.
If you have livestock, it’s always a good idea to take precautions to ensure you don’t lose any of your animals to a hungry coyote. Coyote urine can repel the canines by tricking them into thinking the area has already been claimed by another pack.
If you’d rather not mess around with straight urine, you can find pre-made repellent sprays, like this PredatorPee Coyote Urine Spray.
7. You Might Find Coyotes Relaxing in Rocky Areas and Caves
From the way they form to the ecosystems they house, caves are truly fascinating. Seriously, you’d be surprised how much there is to learn about caves! But we aren’t talking about caves today; we’re talking about the animals living inside them.
Numerous animals use caves as shelter, especially in the winter. And while the canines aren’t the first animals in line to claim dibs on a cave, they will use them to escape from harsh weather.
That said, coyotes don’t usually venture too deep into a cave, and you’re more likely to find them napping in a shallow, rocky cave entrance than in a deep, narrow one.
You really cannot talk about caves and winter without thinking about bears, which might have you wondering, do bears and coyotes fight over shelters?
While both animals have been known to attack one another, it’s almost always a fight over food. Otherwise, the two prefer to avoid each other. The only time you might see a battle over a cave is if one of the animals is defending food or cubs.
Like coyotes, bears can be found all over the United States. To learn more, check out our article about the scents that attract bears and how to repel them!
8. Coyotes Hang Out in Other Animals Burrows
Remember before when we said that coyotes were considerate? It turns out this consideration might not extend to other animals since coyotes sometimes use other animals’ burrows for shelter.
In fact, according to the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, coyotes frequently save energy by utilizing previously dug burrows. And no den is off limits. If the hole is too small for the canine, they simply remodel it to their liking.
Typically, coyotes only do this when making dens for their pups. However, they’ve also been known to utilize animal dens during the winter when they need to escape harsh weather.
9. Snowmobile Trails Help Coyotes Move Around
Unlike some other animals, coyotes don’t have a way to reduce their energy consumption biologically. They cannot go dormant or hibernate during the winter. That said, the clever canines still find ways to ration the energy they have.
Coyotes use snowmobile trails like mini-highways through the winter landscape. One of the reasons researchers believe they do this is to save energy. It also helps the dogs move around quickly, allowing them to cover more ground each day.
Anyone who’s ever walked through deep snow understands why a coyote would prefer to walk along a densely packed trail, but there might be more to it.
Aside from being easier to walk on, coyotes also use trails to find food. Several other animals utilize snowmobile trails, including moose, deer, rabbits, porcupines, and turkeys. All tasty treats for a hungry pack of coyotes.
Fun Fact: the clever canines can eat porcupines without getting quilled because they’ve learned how to flip them onto their back. Pretty brave!
10. Coyotes Go Where the Food Is
We already know that coyotes are found throughout the United States, and one of the reasons they’re able to thrive in so many different environments is that they’re not picky about what they eat.
According to the Atlanta Coyote Project, the canines will eat just about anything, but their main diet consists of:
- Small mammals
They’re also known to eat:
- Larger mammals
- Pet food
In the winter, coyotes depend on animals that don’t hibernate to sustain them. This often includes deer, rabbits, turkeys, rodents, and livestock. Heres a full list of animals that coyotes eat if you’d like more info.
Coyotes often hunt inside their territory and are very good at finding food. Because they eat a lot of rodents in the winter, they can be beneficial neighbors.
That said, you should NEVER purposely feed a coyote (or keep one as a pet.)
Exactly Where a Coyote Goes Depends on Their Location
When you stop to think about it, the fact that coyotes have adapted to survive in so many geographical locations—including heavily populated cities—is amazing. And their ability to live anywhere helps them do this.
Coyotes aren’t picky about where they spend their time. As long as their basic needs are met, they can make any area home. In fact, coyotes have even been spotted in large cities like New York City and Los Angeles.
It’s hard to list all of the places a coyote might go in the winter because they live in so many diverse locations. To help sum things up, we’ve created a chart comparing where rural and city coyotes might spend time during the winter months.
How Do Coyotes Survive Winter?
It’s hard to overstate just how adaptable coyotes are. Right down to how their body changes before winter, coyotes are perfectly created to thrive in almost any environment.
The chill of autumn invading the warm summer breeze is a sign to coyotes. They begin eating more to help their body prepare for the cold months ahead. It’s a perfect time, too, since fruits, vegetables, plants, and animals are abundant in the fall.
You might notice that it’s around this time when coyotes begin to plump up. Some of this is the extra weight, but most of their autumn bulk is due to their coat getting thicker.
These thicker coats keep the canines insulated against the cold and also help them blend into the winter landscape. Moreover, coyotes don’t have to worry too much about getting wet since their coats are naturally waterproof.
Speaking of staying warm and dry during the winter, you can stay as warm as a coyote with a Waterproof Ski Jacket from MOERDENG.
What Do Coyotes Do During the Winter
So we know that coyotes tend to stay put in the winter, and we know where they like to hang out, but what do the canines do during the colder months?
Let’s find out!
During the Winter Coyotes Become More Active
Although coyotes are nearby all year round, you’re more likely to catch a glimpse of the beautiful canines in the winter.
Coyotes become more active in the winter because they need to find food and stay warm. Many plants and animals that coyotes eat are not on the menu in the winter, so they might have to travel further to find food.
The other reason coyotes become more active is to stay warm. Shivering helps to a certain extent, but the dogs might need to move around to generate body heat in frigid weather.
It’s important to note that mated females, especially ones living in larger packs, tend to become less active in the winter months. They’ll rest more and hunt much less, possibly relying on the rest of the group.
Because they’re more active and there’s less foliage, you’re more likely to see a coyote during the winter than in the summer. While spotting a coyote is not an instant cause for alarm, you should never approach or try to feed the animal.
Instead, please read our article on how to scare coyotes away from your property!
Traveling Together Becomes More Common
Although coyotes are social animals that form packs, most prefer to travel and hunt alone. In the winter, however, pack travel becomes much more common.
One of the reasons for this is to defend their territory better. Because food is scarce, coyotes have to protect their territory from other carnivores, which is much easier when you’re in a group.
Survival also plays a role in the increased pack travel. Because many smaller animals hibernate, coyotes rely on larger prey, such as deer. While I have never personally chased a deer through the woods, I’m sure it would be easier with a group.
But survival might not always be about food. The pack could also gather to protect mating pairs better, thus ensuring further generations are born.
Coyotes Start Looking for Mates In the Winter
For coyotes, breeding season occurs in late winter. Exactly when it happens depends on their location and the availability of mates. But before breeding can occur, coyotes have to find a mate.
If you think dating as a human is hard, you’ve never asked a coyote!
Before a young pup can mate, he must leave his family and territory. Then, he has to make his way through other territories to find an unmated female. Being caught inside another pack’s territory is dangerous, even more so if he’s caught sniffing around their females.
To add to the challenge, females only go into heat once a year, and that heat cycle only lasts about three to six days. So not only do young males have to run the gauntlet to find a female, he has to find her at precisely the right time.
Luckily, if he’s fortunate enough to find a mate, they will likely pair for life.
Although coyotes are not typically dangerous to humans, they can be aggressive during the breeding season. It’s important to keep pets inside during this time. This is especially true if you have a female dog, as coyotes can successfully pair with domestic canines.
If you’re worried about your cat during coyote breeding season, please read our article explaining how to keep coyotes away from your cat!
Mated Pairs Begin Looking for Real Estate
We learned earlier that coyotes only use dens when they have pups. Although pups aren’t born until early spring, coyotes might start their search for a suitable home in the winter.
During this time, you might see the pair digging around tree stumps, rocky crevices, and existing burrows. Once they find a suitable site, they’ll watch the area for several weeks to make sure it’s a safe location.
Coyotes are super clever and look for denning sites that aren’t visited often by other predators and also won’t fill up with rain in the spring. Mated pairs might create several den sites before their pups are born.
How To Tell If You Have Winter Coyotes Near You!
It’s usually pretty easy to tell if you have coyotes in your area—just listen for the spine-tingling sound of howling late at night. That said, if you’re unfamiliar with the signs, it can be easy to misidentify coyotes and other animals.
According to Kansas State University, coyotes live in all U.S. states except Hawaii. Whether you live in a rural town or a large city, there’s a good chance that you’re neighbors with a few coyotes.
Although they were once native to open deserts and mountains, the clever canines have since made themselves at home in forests, swamplands, and urban areas.
If you’re still unsure if you have coyotes living near you, check out these signs that you have coyotes nearby (and what to do).
That’s a Wrap!
The good news is that coyotes aren’t the worst animals you could share your property with. That said, having a group of wild canines sniffing around your yard can be unnerving, especially if you have pets or livestock.
Since coyotes don’t hibernate or migrate, they won’t leave during the winter. Moreover, you might see them more during the colder months as they hunt and search for a mate.
Luckily, the canines prefer to spend their time away from humans, alternating between open areas like fields and meadows to woodland areas like forests. Even urban coyotes try to avoid us by hiding in abandoned buildings and wooded spots in parks and trails.
If you notice a coyote is getting too close for comfort, you can find a professional in your area to give you advice. Otherwise, yelling and waving your arms is often all it takes to scare the skittish canines away.
Now that you know where coyotes go, you can take steps to ensure they stay away from your property!
Bekoff, M., & Wells, M. C. (1980). The social ecology of coyotes. Scientific American, 242(4), 130-151.
Crête, M., & Larivière, S. (2003). Estimating the costs of locomotion in snow for coyotes. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 81(11), 1808-1814.
Elliot, E. E., Vallance, S., & Molles, L. E. (2016). Coexisting with coyotes (Canis latrans) in an urban environment. Urban ecosystems, 19(3), 1335-1350.
Holzman, S., Conroy, M. J., & Pickering, J. (1992). Home range, movements, and habitat use of coyotes in south central Georgia. The Journal of wildlife management, 139-146.
Ozoga, J. J., & Harger, E. M. (1966). Winter activities and feeding habits of northern Michigan coyotes. The Journal of wildlife management, 809-818.
Zack is a Nature & Wildlife specialist based in Upstate, NY, and is the founder of his Tree Journey and Pest Pointers brands. He has a vast experience with nature while living and growing up on 50+ acres of fields, woodlands, and a freshwater bass pond. Zack has encountered many pest situations over the years and has spent his time maintaining and planting over 35 species of trees since his youth with his family on their property.
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