It may come as a surprise that coyotes do not use dens year round. They use the dens to give birth to their pups and as a place to nurse their young — whelping. The pups move out soon after these beginnings, however, they retain use of the well hidden areas around the dens — these become their secret resting places. Most coyote families retain several of these areas for their use. The pups are moved regularly to escape flea buildup and as a safety measure. I think of a coyote den as being similar in usage to a bird’s nest: it is a temporary “nursery”. However, the nest, if it is still somewhat intact, may be fixed up the next year to be used again. This is how the coyote dens I’ve seen work. People are constantly asking me where the dens are, and I have to respond that, unless they are having pups, there are no dens: coyotes sleep out in the open and can sometimes be seen doing so. See my posting of July 15, 2010: Sleeping and Resting Right In The Open.
The den is dug by both parents-to-be on sandy hillsides and steep creek banks, under logs or rocks, within underbrush and in open areas where the digging is easy. These are always areas chosen for protective concealment, but also, they are places that can be watched by a coyote parent from some distance, again for protective purposes. Not all coyote dens are made by coyotes themselves: coyotes sometimes dig out and enlarge holes dug by smaller burrowing animals, such as badger or fox dens. In suburban and urban areas coyotes may dig dens in golf courses or in other vacant lots, under sheds and under culverts and storm drains.
Dens are usually three to six feet below the surface and can run from only a few feet to 50 feet into a hillside. The dug out tunnel leads to a large chamber, which often has a second or even more entrances that are better hidden than the digging entrance. Active dens are hard to find because of the various entrances — and because coyotes are very careful not to lead anyone there. Coyotes have not one, but several dens which they move between, not only to protect the pups from predators, but also to protect the pups from the fleas and other parasites which build up.
A coyote will fiercely defend its den if it believes the pups are in danger, even charging full-grown grizzlies who came too close. This is why dog owners are warned to keep their dogs far away from coyotes during pupping season. Pups are born from March thru mid-May, and then are nursed for 4-6 weeks. But the end of nursing is not the end of “pupping”. I’ve seen mothers fiercely defend pups who are approaching two years of age when dogs go after them. It is best to respect coyotes and allow them the space they need to feel safe.
Here is a wonderful link to a video of pups emerging from their den for the first time, produced by BBC Worldwide. It is called Coyote Cub Singing, and shows a very young coyote pup producing his first high-pitched howl!! Also, see more coyote pups emerging from their den.