Outforia Summary: Key Takeaways
- Coyotes expanded their range to the East Coast of the United States around the beginning of the 20th century, reaching New Jersey around 1990.
- The first reported coyote sighting in New Jersey occurred in 1939, and today, coyotes are found in over 400 municipalities, covering over 94% of the state’s land area.
- Eastern coyotes are hybrids, with genetic makeup from western coyotes, gray wolves, eastern wolves, and domestic dogs, making them highly adaptable.
- Coyotes in New Jersey have had a positive impact on the state’s ecology by managing populations of other animals like rabbits, raccoons, foxes, and feral cats, helping to restore a balanced ecosystem.
Coyotes didn’t always live on the East Coast of the United States. For the past 10,000 years, their range stretched from California to the Mississippi River. But around the beginning of the 20th century, they started to expand their territory.
In the 1920’s, they were introduced to Alaska. By 1990, they expanded their range to much of the East Coast, including the state of New Jersey.
What caused coyotes to migrate out of their native range? How long have they been in New Jersey, and what impacts have they had on the state? In this article, we’re taking a look at New Jersey’s newest canine predator.
History of Coyotes in NJ
According to the New Jersey Department of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW), the first reported coyote sighting occurred in 1939 in Hunterdon County, northwest Jersey. Unfortunately, the coyote was shot. Its skin now hangs in the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, NJ.
In the decades following 1939, there were over 40 coyote sightings reported to the NJDFW. Sightings have increased even more since 1980.
Today, coyotes have been reported in over 400 municipalities and in every New Jersey county, covering over 94% of the state’s land area.
But why did coyotes move into New Jersey in the first place?
Human-caused landscape alterations like deforestation and agricultural development may have forced coyotes from their native ranges to seek new, more suitable territory.
The extermination of wolves, cougars, and other large predators from much of the Eastern United States also allowed coyotes to expand their territory. Wolves and cougars are predators of coyotes. However, once they were exterminated from the east, coyotes had no natural predators to halt their expansion.
Now, coyotes seem to be permanently settled in New Jersey and much of the Eastern United States.
Genetics of the Eastern Coyote
The coyotes that have since invaded the east are one of 16 coyote subspecies found in North America.
Genetic analysis shows that eastern coyotes are hybrids. They are a mixture between western coyotes, gray wolves, eastern wolves, and even domestic dogs! They’re a real hodgepodge of North American canines.
Crossbreeding between many canid species equipped eastern coyotes with highly adaptable traits.
For example, eastern coyotes are larger than western coyotes. Some researchers think their large size is because of their wolf DNA. Their size allowed them to expand rapidly, and readily adapt to eastern environments.
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The Coyotes of NJ
Now that we’ve covered the history of coyote expansion and their unique genetics, let’s take a closer look at eastern coyotes.
When the first coyote was reported in New Jersey, local newspapers described it as “a long, bushy-tailed animal looking something like a police dog but with the coloration of a coyote.” Their description is pretty accurate.
Eastern coyotes are quite large. They can reach 4-5 feet in length (1.2-1.5 m), stand slightly over 2 feet (61 cm) at the shoulder, and weigh up to 50 lbs (22.67 kg).
Compare that to western coyotes, which only weigh around 20-30 lbs (9-13 kg).
Typically, coyotes have grayish coats, but eastern coyotes differ again. While they do have gray coats, they also have many color phases.
Eastern coyotes can have brown, gray, red, blonde, and even black coats. Sometimes they’re a mix of various colors.
Usually, coyotes’ fur changes color with the seasons. In summer, coyotes’ fur is shorter and lighter in color. In winter, when their coat is full, it will often be darker.
Coyotes have large, pointed ears, big yellow eyes, and long, bushy tales with black tips. Males are usually larger than females by about 4-5 lbs (1-2 kg).
Also, some eastern coyotes look like German Shepherds because they crossbred with dogs. This describes the “police dog” description in the newspaper accounts.
Habitat and Range
Coyotes reportedly live in every county in New Jersey. They are shy, elusive creatures, so it’s hard to get an exact population count. Some estimations number New Jersey coyotes in the thousands.
Eastern coyotes thrive in forests and fields. They prefer fringe habits, like a forest that borders an open field or meadow. People have also reported coyotes in urban environments.
Coyotes also live in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a vast expanse of pine forests stretching over 1 million acres.
The Pine Barrens is a perfect place for coyotes to reside. The Pinelands is mostly undeveloped and remote, perfect for the shy coyote. In addition, there are vast stretches of shrublands surrounded by dense forests, which are ideal habitats for a coyote.
Also, the Pine Barrens supports a large population of deer, beaver, squirrels, raccoons, lemmings, and other small mammals, all of which make a perfect meal for coyotes.
Some believe that more coyotes are being introduced to the Pine Barrens to reduce the growing white-tail deer population.
However, the NJDFW denies this claim. They state that, “Fish and Wildlife has never imported coyotes at any time in the past, although there is evidence that private citizens throughout the state have done so before 1950.”
Coyotes have a varied diet that mainly depends on what’s readily available. They are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant material and meat.
Eastern coyotes’ diet consists of white-tail deer, raccoons, rabbits, other small mammals, birds, insects, berries, and other plant material.
Coyotes that live in urban environments occasionally scavenge for trash and leftover food.
However, researchers estimate that trash makes up no more than 1.3% of their diet. Coyotes will also steal fruits and veggies from gardens and hunt domestic pets or feral cats and dogs.
Also, coyotes don’t usually hunt adult white-tail deer. Typically, they kill fauns or weak adults or scavenge meat off roadkill. So, even if the NJDFW introduced more coyotes to control the deer population, the coyotes wouldn’t be very effective.
Lifecycle, Mating, and Reproduction
Coyotes live an average of 6-8 years in the wild, but some live much longer. In captivity, they can live up to 20 years.
Coyotes are monogamous, mating with a single partner for life. They do not group in large packs like wolves. Instead, they remain solitary or form a small family group consisting of a mated pair and their pups.
Coyotes mate in February and March. Females give birth in early spring and raise their pups in underground dens.
During this time, male coyotes become very active and travel long distances in search of extra food for the female and newborns.
Coyote pups grow quickly and are full-grown at around nine months. They become sexually mature at ten months. Still, most won’t mate until they’re about two years old. By the time a coyote is nine months old, it will have learned to hunt on its own and gets exiled from its parent’s territory.
Sometimes, a young coyote will travel more than 100 miles (161 km) searching for unoccupied territory and mates.
Predators of Coyotes in New Jersey
The only predators that coyotes would have in New Jersey are black bears, wolves, and cougars.
However, as previously mentioned, these animals have been pushed out of the region (although black bears are still seen occasionally), so they no longer pose a threat.
New Jersey coyotes have no natural predators. A bald eagle may prey on coyote pups if the pups are out in the open. But the biggest threat to coyotes is people, be it hunters, trappers, or car fatalities.
And speaking of hunters and trappers, let’s now look at New Jersey hunting regulations regarding coyotes.
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New Jersey Coyote Hunting Regulations
In 1980, coyotes in New Jersey were given furbearer status, meaning they could be hunted for their pelts.
Nearly 20 years later, in 1998, New Jersey coyotes were given game status. This means they could be hunted or trapped for sport and trophies.
Hunting poses no significant threat to the New Jersey coyote population. For example, in the 2018-2019 hunting season, only 144 coyotes were hunted and killed out of the 1,000 or more coyotes estimated to live in the state.
Coyote hunting season runs from September to November for bow hunting and November to March for firearms and bows. In all cases, hunting permits are required, and steel-jawed leg-hold traps are strictly forbidden.
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Coyote and Human Relations
In almost all cases, coyotes will avoid humans at all costs. This is because they have excellent hearing and can detect a noisy person over a mile away. However, since more and more coyotes are expanding into urban areas of New Jersey, the chance of an encounter with one is more likely.
Despite the growing presence of coyotes, reports of coyote-caused troubles have remained low.
The biggest threat coyotes pose is to pets. Coyotes have been known to hunt domestic pets, either for food or because the coyote sees them as intruding on their territory.
The best way to prevent coyotes from attacking pets is never to leave a pet outside unsupervised.
It’s also essential to never feed a coyote. If you do, a coyote may lose its fear of humans and instead associate them with easily accessible food, which could cause trouble. As with all wild animals, it’s best to give them their space and respect their boundaries.
Also, suppose you’re a New Jersey resident and encounter a coyote that shows no fear of humans. In that case, you can call the local authorities to have them remove the coyote from the area.
You can checkout the NJ Fish and Wildlife to find the numbers of who to call and other information about coyotes.
Coyote Management in NJ
Coyotes are adaptable, and this makes them hard to manage.
For example, they can dig under or climb over most fences. Sound and odor repellents may work at driving coyotes away, but not for long. They can adapt to most repellents and won’t be bothered by them after a while.
Relocating coyotes also doesn’t work. Studies show that relocated adult coyotes have a slim chance of surviving in their new location, despite their adaptability. This is because coyotes are highly territorial.
Lethal force can sometimes be used to manage coyotes. However, lethal force is only allowed if a property owner or farmer experiences damage to property, crops, or livestock.
If this is the case, the property owner can use a registered firearm to dispose of the coyote. They must report the killing to the NJDFW within 24 hours.
An interesting thing to note is that killing more coyotes to reduce their threat to livestock does the opposite of what you’d expect. An estimated 400,000 coyotes are killed on sight across the United States each year in an attempt to reduce coyote-caused livestock fatalities.
However, this mass-killing technique increases the number of coyotes. How? Because it messes up their social structure.
Coyotes naturally regulate their populations based on food availability and the privilege of dominant males to mate with the females.
However, suppose hundreds of coyotes are killed. In that case, there’s more food to go around for the remaining ones and, thus, more resources available to support breeding and pup raising.
Also, if dominant males or females are killed off, coyotes of lesser status attempt to take power by breeding more and producing more offspring.
This counterintuitive method of killing coyotes en-masse is called the “hydra effect” by the National Parks Service: like the myth of the hydra, if you cut off one head, two more grow back. Or, in this case, kill one coyote, and even more are born.
No matter what, it seems coyotes are new permanent residents in New Jersey. Luckily, coyotes have not been a problem for most New Jersey residents.
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Effects of Coyotes on New Jersey Ecology
Believe it or not, coyotes have positively impacted New Jersey’s ecology.
A vacuum was formed when wolves and other large predators were hunted to extinction in New Jersey.
As a result, populations of deer, rodents, rabbits, raccoons, and foxes were left unchecked by natural predators. This can result in overpopulation and offset a balanced ecosystem.
Foxes, raccoons, and feral cats are especially problematic if left unchecked. These animals are known as mesopredators, which means “medium-sized predators.”
An overabundance of mesopredators in New Jersey can devastate populations of songbirds, shorebirds, small mammals, and even turtles, like the endangered diamondback terrapin.
Coyotes manage mesopredator populations either by hunting and killing mesopredators or because mesopredators avoid territories occupied by coyotes.
In any case, coyotes have rebalanced New Jersey’s ecology and, in that way, should be honored for helping to restore an ecosystem disrupted by human shortsightedness.
Coyotes in NJ FAQs
Most of these questions were answered in the above sections. But for convenience, we’ll answer the most common questions again here.
Where do coyotes live in NJ?
Pretty much everywhere! Coyotes have been reported in all 21 New Jersey counties. They prefer living in forests, especially ones that border open fields or clearings. However, they have taken up residence in urban areas as well.
Are coyotes a problem in NJ?
No, coyotes are not a problem in New Jersey. While it may be unnerving to have coyotes wandering around your forests, parks, or neighborhoods, coyotes rarely interact with humans. Instead, they prefer keeping to themselves and out of your way.
Also, coyotes have helped rebalance the New Jersey ecosystem by controlling populations of other animals like rabbits, raccoons, foxes, and feral cats. So in that way, coyotes are beneficial to New Jersey.
What kind of coyotes live in NJ?
The eastern coyote (Canis latrans var) lives in New Jersey. The eastern coyote is a hybrid. As coyotes moved east, they interbred with wolves and domestic dogs. So now, all eastern coyotes have wolf and dog DNA in them.
Do coyotes attack pets?
Coyote attacks on pets are common. This is especially true when it’s mating season for coyotes. Mating season begins in mid-late winter. As a result, coyotes will cover vast distances looking for mates. They can be especially territorial, possibly mistaking a dog for a rival.
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