If you have ever been awake late enough to hear a coyote howl, it can be chilling to hear answering calls from all over the area. It sounds like they’re everywhere! Coyotes are social creatures and have the largest arsenal of communication noises of any mammal. Another social behavior that coyotes practice is hunting in packs.
Coyotes do not hunt in packs as often as wolves, but they will form packs for specific occasions. Hunting down large prey like white-tailed deer, teaching young pups to hunt, and covering larger areas are some reasons coyotes form packs. Packs also increase their hunting success rate.
Before we dive into all the reasons that coyotes hunt in a pack, let’s talk a little background on these amazingly adaptable canines.
Do Coyotes Ever Hunt in Packs?
Most of us have seen some sort of documentary or movie with a pack of wolves chasing after an elk or deer. But what about coyotes?
Coyotes and wolves are close relatives, being in the same genus: Canis. However, they are two different species and have different hunting habits and behaviors.
Wolves and coyotes are both social animals, but wolves are much more likely to form packs when they hunt than coyotes.
It is not common to be an actual ‘lone wolf.’
So, do coyotes ever hunt in packs? Absolutely! Coyotes will form hunting packs for certain situations.
With that being said, coyotes are more likely to hunt alone than in a pack. Most of their prey includes small mammals like mice, squirrels, and rabbits, which they can take down on their own.
Coyotes are so good at taking down small prey that they’ve become essential to a variety of ecosystems, keeping small herbivores in check.
Let’s check out some reasons coyotes might form a pack to hunt.
What Do Coyotes Eat?
Before we get into how coyotes hunt, let’s talk about what coyotes are hunting. Coyotes are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and other animals.
But omnivore does not cover it… coyotes are incredibly adaptive and will eat just about anything. And we mean anything!
Coyotes will eat white-tailed deer, birds, rabbits, bison, elk, sheep, chickens, goats, mice, rats, squirrels, and snakes. They will also eat insects, apples, blueberries, balsam fir, garden vegetables, and roadkill.
For a more complete list of what coyotes eat, check out our article 23 Animals That Coyotes Eat: A Coyote Meal Guide.
A coyote’s wide palette gives it the remarkable ability to adapt to just about any environment. You can find coyotes as far north as Alaska and as far south as Panama. They are found throughout Canada as well.
According to the University of Michigan, coyotes will thrive just as well in a swamp as in a desert and can be found in forests, mountains, grasslands, urban, suburban, and rural areas as well.
The only place where you won’t see coyotes is in wolf territory. Wolves and coyotes compete for the same foods, and wolves do not take kindly to seeing coyotes. In fact, they will attack a coyote on sight.
So, we know coyotes will eat just about anything and live just about anywhere. How do these elusive creatures take down their prey?
Why Do Coyotes Hunt In Packs?
It can be tough being a coyote. You have to go out and search for food every day, find a safe place to build a den, all while being vigilant of potential predators. Rought life, right?
Coyotes do not live in a pack like wolves. It’s more of a loose family group with a defined home territory that is protected only during pup-rearing.
Sometimes, the family group comes together for a special occasion: hunting. There are a few reasons coyotes will form packs to take down their prey:
Coyotes Hunt In Packs To Take Down Large Prey
One of the main reasons coyotes hunt in packs is to take down large prey they otherwise could not take down on their own.
According to a study performed in Central West Virginia, white-tailed deer are the most common prey of coyotes. Although prey changes with the season and availability, white-tailed deer is a staple in all coyote diets.
But our howling canine can rarely take down a healthy deer on its own. A typical western coyote weighs between 15 and 40 pounds, but the larger eastern coyote weighs in at an average of 35 to 55 pounds. This is thought to result from hybrid breeding with wolves.
Nonetheless, taking down a fully grown adult deer is difficult for any coyote. To combat this, they gather the family together and go on a hunt.
To take down a deer, elk, or other large prey, coyotes will use two different tactics while pack hunting.
- The first tactic is for each coyote in the pack to take turns chasing the prey. The prey will eventually tire out and slow down, at which point the coyotes can move in and take it down easier.
- The second tactic a pack will use is to lure the prey into a waiting ambush coyote. The pack will herd the deer toward a waiting coyote, hoping the coyote can slow or stop the deer long enough for the others to catch up and help take it down.
These clever tactics improve a coyote family’s chance of taking down prey large enough to feed the entire pack.
Coyotes Form Packs To Teach Their Young
During January through March, love is in the air for our neighborhood coyotes. This is when reproduction occurs. Males and females will sometimes mate for several seasons, other times they will only mate for one season.
Coyotes have their pups in early spring around March or April. Both the male and the female care for the young. In just 35 days, the pups are weaned from the mother and venturing out of the den to explore their new world.
During the first six months of life, coyotes are constantly learning from their parents. They learn what is and isn’t okay to eat, how to behave, and how to hunt.
A litter can range in size from 1 to 19 pups but averages 5 to 7 pups according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Eventually, these pups will need to learn how to hunt on their own.
Before the pups reach six months of age, one or both of the parents will take them out and teach them how to hunt. While it might not be as dramatic as chasing down a deer, the adult coyotes will teach them how to hunt smaller prey like mice and squirrels.
Coyotes Hunt In Pairs For A Higher Success Rate
Coyotes are clever. It cannot be denied. They are one of the most adaptable animals on the planet, proven by their vast expansion across North America, Canada, and Central America.
One example of how coyotes are adaptable is their hunting behavior. While most predators are busy sticking to their normal routines, coyotes will hunt alone, in pairs, or in a group to take down whatever opportunity is available.
When coyotes are not feeling a family outing, they sometimes form loose pairs to go on a hunt. While this is not necessarily considered ‘pack’ hunting, it is still not lone hunting.
Hunting in pairs helps coyotes cover a larger area and increases their chance of success.
Coyotes Hunt With Badgers
There are tons of examples of two different species working together to benefit each other. Bees and flowers, ants and aphids, clownfish and anemones.
You get the point…
One of the more bizarre partnerships is between coyotes and badgers. Two marvelous predators in their own right working together? Ground squirrels do not stand a chance.
Sometimes, these partnerships involve more than one coyote. Reports from the National Elk Refuge in Wyoming have reported a badger working with two coyotes, forming a small hunting pack.
So, how does this peculiar partnership work? It has not been proven both parties benefit. In some observations, the coyote would nip at the badger or steal its caught prey. However, sometimes both the badger and the coyote benefit.
Badgers are exceptionally good at digging, while coyotes have exceptional hearing and smell. To get at ground squirrels, the coyote can identify where a squirrel is located and the badger can dig into the burrow to flush the animal out.
Similar to when coyotes work in pairs, working with badgers increases their success rate of catching small prey.
How Many Coyotes Run In A Pack?
We know coyotes occasionally hunt in packs, but how many individuals make up a pack? Pack hunting does not always include the entire family group, especially if there are young pups that cannot hunt yet.
Pack size varies with food availability, but according to the Conservation Agency, most packs range from 3 to 7 adult coyotes and 2 to 7 pups.
Pups that are just a few months old will not participate in pack hunting to take down large prey, but as we mentioned before, they might participate in lessons involving the whole gang preying on smaller animals like rabbits and mice.
If you’re interested in learning more coyote facts, check out our article: 51 Amazing Coyote Facts (And Things You Didn’t Know)
What To Do If A Coyote Pack Approaches You
It can be intimidating enough to run into a lone coyote, but to meet two or more of these predators out in the wild can be downright dangerous.
So, what should you do?
Coyotes aren’t as dangerous as wolves or bears, but you should always treat coyotes with respect. If you run into one or more coyotes, here are some tips you should follow:
Do not run, stand your ground: running away from any predator can trigger their instinct to chase. Stand your ground.
Throw something: Coyotes are normally easily intimidated. You can throw rocks or sticks at the coyote to warn it not to come close. Be sure to do this out in the open, not while crouched behind something. This lets the coyote know YOU are the danger.
If you live in coyote territory, use repellents: If you’ve been hearing these noisy neighbors howling and yipping to one another, it means you live pretty close to coyotes. Use repellents in your yard to deter coyotes from getting too close.
You can use something like American Heritage Industries Wolf Urine paired with Predator Pee Scent Tags around your yard. Coyotes won’t come near areas where wolves are present, and the scent of their urine will be enough to trick them into staying away.
For more information on how to repel coyotes, check out our article 4 Best Coyote Repellents (And How To Use Them).
How Far Do Coyote Packs Travel?
Family groups of our wily coyote can vary in both size and territory. In general, the larger the family size, the larger the home range.
Being predators, you would think coyotes would be protective of their home range. However, home ranges are only protected during the pup-rearing season. At any other time of the year, coyotes are pretty chill about other packs crossing borders into their territory.
Coyotes only have 1 litter of pups per year, so spring is when coyotes are most protective of their territories. On average, a coyote family’s home range is between 5 and 10 miles in diameter.
Solitary coyotes travel much further than family groups, up to 60 square miles. This may be because they are looking for a pack to join or looking to start their own pack.
When hunting as a pack, our noisy coyotes will not travel very far. They typically stay within their home range. However, if they’re in the middle of a hunt, they will not hesitate to leave their territory to follow prey.
While coyotes can travel, they can also travel to your yard. You can read more about the specific reasons why coyotes may be in your yard here.
When Are Coyotes Most Active?
So, when can we expect our vocal neighbors to be out prowling around and hunting? Well, it depends on where the coyote lives and when an opportunity arises.
Coyotes that live near humans are most active at dawn, dusk, and during the night. They tend to laze around during the day in hiding, away from prying human eyes. Urban coyotes are especially secretive and rarely seen by humans.
Urban coyotes hunt during these times, but coyotes that live away from humans and in wilder territory have a different schedule.
Coyotes in heavily forested areas away from humans are most active during the day. Coyotes have rather poor vision, using it to detect movement more than anything. Being active during the day helps with their poor vision, though coyotes rely more heavily on scent and sound when hunting.
No matter where a coyote lives, from city life to rural chicken thief, if an opportunity for food presents itself, a coyote will become active at any time of the day.
Their opportunistic behavior paired with their adaptive nature makes coyotes one of the most successful animals on the planet.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out our article: 5 Places Where Coyotes Sleep at Night
Coyotes are everywhere but rarely seen. These secretive animals have a wide range of behaviors, food preferences, and hunting styles.
While coyotes normally hunt alone, they sometimes form small- to medium-sized packs in certain situations. These packs typically comprise between 3 and 7 adult coyotes.
To recap, here are some reasons coyotes might form packs to hunt:
- To take turns tiring prey out
- To lead prey into an ambush coyote
- To teach young pups how to hunt
- To form pairs to cover a larger area and improve success rate
- To form bonds with other coyotes and badgers to improve success rate
While these mesopredators are not very dangerous to humans, it is always good to know what to do when you encounter a coyote. Be sure to stand your ground and, if necessary, throw something at the coyote to keep it away.
If you’re ever unsure about a coyote or having problems with them in your yard, contact a professional for help or information. Our nationwide pest control finder can get you in contact with a local professional!
Crimmins, S. M., Edwards, J. W., & Houben, J. M. (2012, September 01). Canis latrans (Coyote) Habitat Use and Feeding Habits in Central West Virginia. Northeastern Naturalist, 19(3), 411-420.
Lehner, P. N. (1981). Coyote-badger associations. Great Basin Naturalist, 41(3), 347-348.
Lingle, S., & Pellis, S. (2002, March 01). Fight or flight? Antipredator behavior and the escalation of coyote encounters with deer. Behavioural Ecology, 131, 154-162.
Schuttler, S. G., Parsons, A. W., Forrester, T. D., Baker, M. C., McShea, W. J., & Kays, C. R. (2016, November 21). Deer on the lookout: how hunting, hiking and coyotes affect white-tailed deer vigilance. Journal of Zoology, 301(4), 320-327.
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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