Seeing Larger Number of Coyotes Traveling Together: Need for Concern? by Mary Paglieri

Photo by ©Andrew S. Kelley,

Photo printed with permission by ©Andrew S. Kelley,

Eastern Coyotes have been seen traveling in larger groups at this time of year, and this is creating some concern for folks in urban areas. People are asking, because of the snowfall, if the coyotes are desperate for food and will they be hunting in “packs,” and are they more dangerous to pets and small children? The answer is no as explained by Behavioral Ecologist/Animal Behaviorist and Human-Animal Conflict Consultant, Mary Paglieri:
Cooperative hunting in Eastern coyote family units is an evolutionarily stable strategy. It is a strategy that is adopted to bring down a single large prey animal i.e. white tail deer, because failing to do so, would reduce each individual’s ability to survive through the winter when small prey is not readily accessible. White tail deer, their primary source of food in winter, is too large to be taken down by one coyote, and the cost to that coyote’s wellbeing from injuries incurred while doing so can be very high. These costs are lessened when all members of the family work cooperatively. Furthermore, the increased benefit from cooperative hunting must compensate for the division of available meat amongst the cooperators: coyotes don’t share their small prey, but all members share when the prey is large.
Seeing coyotes move in family units this time of year should not be cause for added alarm. They are doing so to hunt deer, a large prey animal. They do not hunt cooperatively for smaller prey, which is a solitary “competitive” activity when small prey is available. Ordinary caution with pets and children should be exercised. In addition, snow impedes the mobility of deer making them easier for coyotes to subdue and capture in the winter — all animals tend towards the easier source of food, so, given the high deer density in the Eastern States, they should have an ample food supply to carry them through the winter and early spring.



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