Home      Photos      Hiking      Writings      Contact       Copyright

Paranoid Hiker's Guide to New England

Introduction       Table of Contents       Cross-Indices       Random Article


common name Coyote
Also called prairie wolf, wild dog
scientific name Canis latrans
classification Animalia - Chordata - Mammalia - Carnivora - Canidae
hazard type man-eater, food thief
range & frequency common throughout the Northeast.


Few sounds test a city-dweller's fortitude more than the howling of a pack of wild canids, heard late at night while camping alone. It's not exactly comforting that the beasts themselves usually remain invisible. They're out there, and you wouldn't be able to spot them if they decided to sneak up on you in the night. In the Northeast, the eerie baying is usually produced by coyotes. (Wolves are the subject of a different article in this Guide.)

Coyotes are versatile, clever animals. They hunt at night or during the day, alone or in packs, eating anything they can catch, from mice to deer (also some plants and insects). Their usual staple is rodents, but they won't turn up their noses at garbage, and they seem to relish cats and small dogs. In other words, coyotes are quite comfortable living in close proximity to humans - including in Central Park.

It's a bit surprising, then, that the population of coyote in the eastern U.S. is quite recent. New Hampshire had no coyote sightings before 1944, and much of the state remained coyote-free into the 1970s. All coyotes in the East seem to be more closely related to each other than to Western coyotes. The founders of the Eastern population are thought to have traveled east via Canada, interbreeding with wolves somewhere along the way. That dose of wolf blood may help explain why Eastern coyotes are much larger than their Western relatives.

There is no question that coyotes are large enough and organized enough to hunt a human. (Humans would be easy compared to deer.) Reports of coyotes biting adult humans are surprisingly rare (about one a year nationwide, mostly in California), and usually involve attacks on pets in which the human leaps to the rescue. There have been several incidents in California in which coyotes attacked small children. These followed a pattern of gradually more brazen coyote behavior, in which coyotes became more active in daylight, entered fenced yards, and snatched pets off leashes. New York State has reported the beginnings of a similar pattern, but so far the coyotes in New England remain fearful of humans.


1. Avoidance

Surprising a coyote should be low on your list of worries, but it never hurts to make a bit of noise when traveling through thick brush. (See the articles on bear and moose.)

Avoid sticking your head into a likely coyote den.

Do not feed coyotes. Do not leave food (especially meat) out for pets or other animals, as you are likely to feed coyote instead.

Keep small pets and small children in close proximity.

2. If in proximity to a coyote

Remain calm. Stand up tall, and pick up small pets or small children. If the coyote is too close for comfort, make noise. If that doesn't work, throw stones.

3. If attacked

I have had no success in locating expert advice on how to survive a coyote attack. One reason may be that people seem to have little difficulty fending off coyotes without the benefit of advice. There has only been one recorded human death by coyote attack, a toddler in California in 1981. Her father chased the coyote away but the girl bled to death.

If bitten by a coyote (or any wild animal), rabies should be suspected. Vaccine is ineffective unless administered promptly (within a day or so) and the disease is fatal, so seek medical attention at once.


Yes, an organized pack of half-wolves, each weighing up to fifty pounds, could probably make short work of your tent and wouldn't have all that much to fear from your hiking poles and pocket knife. Lucky for you the coyotes in New England have learned that humans often carry guns. You probably have nothing to fear, but don't let your toddler wander at night.

Reference Materials

New Hampshire Fish and Game Dept: Wildlife profile: coyote

U. of Michigan Animal Diversity Web: Coyote

National Geographic News: Are Coyotes Becoming more Agressive?