Desert coyotes

We camped in a desert oasis that is supplied with water at various times by rainwater draining from the Sawtooth Mountains via the Potrero Wash.  While hiking this wash, I saw many wild animal tracks in the sand, including those of the coyote. (a Naturebytes video).


The coyote (click here to see photo), Canis latrans, the “barking dog”, is a member of the Canidae (dog) family, has an average weight range of 15-46 pounds, and is found throughout North and Central America.  The name “coyote” is a loanword from American Spanish and is derived from the Nahuatl word cóyotl, meaning “prairie wolf”.  The coyote, known as “the song dog” by Native American Indians, often appears in Native American Indian tradition and folklore and is often portrayed as the trickster (and survivor).

The coyote is a very adaptable, wide-ranging predator with an excellent sense of smell, vision and hearing, and hunts alone, in pairs, or in packs.  Each night at sunset, we heard the first calls of the coyotes, high-pitched sounds variously described as howls, yips, yelps and barks, most often heard at dusk and at night.


We closed the trailer windows against the approaching chilly night air, fed the dogs and got them inside before they could become dinner for the coyotes.  Coyotes have been known to attack pets and livestock.  We also secured trash and food containers with lids and weights (rocks).


The coyotes usually waited well into the night, when our trailer was silent, before exploring our campsite.  We could tell that they had visited.  Sometimes we could hear their sounds right next to the trailer.  By morning, the dog’s water bowl was empty and marked with coyote urine.  Nearby was a fresh pile of coyote scat, consisting mostly of mesquite beans, which are plentiful at this oasis.


Coyotes are opportunistic and eat what is available, including the Back-tailed Jackrabbit


and Gambel’s Quail (named after William Gambel, an American naturalist, who died of typhoid while crossing the Sierra Nevada in the winter of 1849).  They inhabit and roost in brushy and thorny vegetation of southwestern deserts.


The coyote’s adaptability has helped it to survive the encroachment of “civilization” and has led to its success as a native North American species.  Coyotes are now thriving, even in suburban settings and some urban ones, and causing alarm and unease.  Coyotes are causing flight delays at some airports.  Two recent incidents of coyotes biting people at Griffith Park, Los Angeles, California, prompted the authorization to kill coyotes, resulting in the death of eight coyotes and a public outcry.

Environmentalists believe that coyotes are necessary to maintain the balance of nature (for example, coyotes help control rodents and feral cats).  The coyote is a persecuted predator, according to Project Coyote, founded in 2008 “to create a shift in attitudes toward coyotes and other native carnivores by replacing ignorance and fear with understanding and appreciation”.

Project Wildlife says that humans need to learn to coexist with coyotes.  Griffith Park is now taking a more positive approach by posting ‘Do Not Feed The Wildlife’ signsAdditional information on the coyote and protecting yourself and your pets is found in these Frequently Asked Questions, presented by and in this video.


Coyote sounds * enhance our desert experience and I always look forward to hearing them, just as I enjoy listening to Peter and the Wolf * at this time of year.

*This is a link to a YouTube video.


  1. says

    Here in northeast Texas the coyotes are plentiful. We live in a nice suburban area with rural patches of oil lease land interspersed. Coyotes live about 100 yards from our driveway and are seen dashing down the roads late at night. They aren’t as brazen as city coyotes though. My cousin in San Diego had her small dog snatched right in front of her eyes to one of those kind. I’ve always had a fascination with them since I was a toddler and my grandpa would take me out to break ice on his cow pond. We’d see them slinking around and I was quite terrified! Now I love listening to them at dusk in the late fall.

  2. Bill D. says

    Thanks Molly for sharing your experiences with coyotes here, along with those of your cousin here in San Diego.

    I especially enjoyed your vivid description of your grandpa taking you as a toddler with him out to break ice on the cow pond and seeing coyotes slinking around.