Nature Nearby: Coyotes' Courtship And Mating Season in Full Swing

Nature Nearby: Coyotes’ Courtship And Mating Season in Full Swing

  • Nature Nearby is written by Naturalist Valerie Blaine, nature programs manager for the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. You may reach her at This is Part 2 of a two-part series on coyotes in Kane.

(CREDIT: Bill Graser)

Coyotes are a reality in suburbia. They are everywhere. There’s not a township in Kane County that a coyote hasn’t traversed. You don’t see them as often as other wild mammals — say, squirrels — because they’re pretty good at laying low, and they’re most active from dusk to dawn, when we aren’t out and about.

This time of year is a bit of an exception, though. You’re more likely see coyotes in winter, because they’re searching a little harder for food. Also, it’s courtship season. The phone calls will start coming to the Forest Preserve District about sightings, and the media will start reporting coyote incidents. It happens every year.

(CREDIT: Bill Graser)

Courtship and mating season lasts from January to February. As with human dating, coyote courtship is an expensive endeavor. Calories count, especially when temperatures are below zero.

Once the females are impregnated, they will require additional caloric input. It doesn’t matter whether the calories come in the form of Pekingese or possum, a Bichon or a bunny. If it’s easy and nutritious, it’s fair game.

In ecology, this is called opportunistic behavior. Most animals are opportunistic, including us. It makes a lot of sense in terms of survival. Get what you can get, when you can get it. Oh, as Mom always said, don’t be a picky eater.

The gestation period for coyotes is roughly 60 days. Coyotes will hollow out a den under a tree, a brush pile or the shed in your back yard for the birth and raising of pups. They are amazingly discreet. You may walk by a den many times and never know it’s there.

In late April or May, the female will give birth to four to nine blind and helpless pups. During this time, both parents will be out seeking food for their young. It will take five to six weeks of “spoon-feeding” (actually, regurgitate-feeding) for the pups to mature enough to venture outside the den and start to eat grown-up food, brought to them by the parents.

(CREDIT: Dave Soderstrom Photography)

Years ago in early May, I came across an active coyote den in one of our forest preserves. It was well-hidden. There were signs of recent activity at the entrance and around the immediate area.

I had a hunch there was a litter of pups was in that den, but there was not a peep from them. That afternoon I shared my finding with our wildlife biologist. He went out to the site and put a game-cam on the den.

The next day, he got some good footage of the pups venturing outside to play. The video also caught Mom Coyote as she came to check on her offspring. Awful darn cute — BUT when it comes to wildlife, you can’t think in terms of cuteness or creepiness. Wildlife is, well, wild.

This statement is not terribly profound, but people who don’t interact with wildlife very much often don’t get it, particularly when it comes to coyotes getting food.

A month ago, a major news networks in Chicago reported a coyote incident in Northfield. “Brutal Coyote Attack on Northfield Family’s Dog,” read one headline. “Vicious Coyote Attack on Dog,” read another. Words like “fierce,” “menacing,” and “dangerous” are often part of reports about coyotes.

By contrast, a barn swallow catching a mouthful of insects isn’t newsworthy, nor is the act viewed as ferocious or cruel. Yet, they’re doing the same thing. Both wild animals are preying on other animals.

It happens.

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