By Joseph Drexler, Restoration Management Assistant at Kankakee Sands
Howling to the moon in the night, yelping to their peers in the distance...Evenings here at Kankakee Sands are often filled with a diverse group of sounds coming from our prairie restoration. The sound that catches my attention the most is the howl of the coyote!
There are very few nights that I do not hear coyotes calling in the distance. They are most vocal at sunrise and sunset. Coyotes often yelp and howl in unison which makes estimating the pack size tricky.
The coyote (Canis latrans) is genetically related to the domesticated dog (Canis lupus familiaris). Its body structure and color are similar to a German shepherd. The average coyote is 25-35 pounds; males are on average 10 pounds heavier than females. The average coyote will live twelve years. This is a long lifespan in which the pack can grow and change. Here in the state of Indiana, a coyote pack will often be three to five members. In the western part of the United States, packs will be larger in order to be successful in the hunting of larger prey.
Mating season occurs during February, and pups are born in April. Litter size is typically five pups, but they vary depending on climate and food availability. The coyote will mate for life and have one litter a year. In May, the young will play near the den and leave the den completely after three months.
As a restoration management assistant here at Kankakee Sands, many of my days are filled with searching the prairie for invasive plants. One day while I was walking, the ground vanished beneath me. I had fallen into a hole, more specifically a coyote den. Luckily the den was empty!
Though coyotes do hunt whitetail deer, small mammals are actually their most common prey. Coyotes are opportunists--they will feed on insects, fruits, and small reptiles when available. When winters are hard they will feed on carrion. Coyotes are excellent hunters, and their ability to smell, hear, and see is incredible. They are also sly; they often walk up on their toes in order to sneak up on their prey.
The coyote is native to Indiana and plays an important part of the prairie landscape. Without coyotes, small mammals could overpopulate an area. An overpopulation of small mammals could directly affect the work we do here at Kankakee Sands. Every year, we are planting seeds and expanding our natural areas. Small mammals eat the seeds and plants we are trying to establish. Although we are not creating habitat specifically for the coyote, we are grateful for the assistance that the coyote give us in keeping the small mammals in balance for the health of the prairies and savanna.
Kankakee Sands is home to many coyotes. Our prairies and savannas offer great habitat and feeding grounds for the coyote. The dunes in unit C and unit D are popular places for coyotes to make a den. Come visit during the day and you might find a den, come visit at sunset, and you might just hear the howl of a coyote.
The Nature Conservancy's Kankakee Sands of Indiana and Illinois is 10,000 acres of prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana and Northeast Illinois, open every day of the year for public enjoyment. For more information visit www.nature.org/KankakeeSands or call the office at 219-285-2184.
Joseph Drexler currently attends Central Michigan University and is completing his Bachelor's Degree while he works at Kankakee Sands as a Restoration Management Assistant. He plans on continuing to save and restore habitat for years to come. His favorite hobbies are hunting and camping.