By Scott Gerdes
Canis latrans, more commonly known as the coyote, is one of Northern New Mexico’s most common wildlife sightings — on land, that is.
This omnivore is smaller than wolves and is a member of the canine family. It can be easily mistaken for a dog at a quick glance, but its bushy tail is a dead giveaway.
American Indian tales and traditions often cast the coyote as a shrewd mammal. It is one of several North American animals whose names have American Indian roots. The Spanish word “coyote” was originally the word coyotl, the name given to the animal by the Nahuatl (Aztec). In Taos Pueblo storytelling history, the coyote is a prominent character. He often symbolizes the trickster and the mischievous one — the wily coyote. “And sometimes, coyote is the bully that picks on other creatures,” said Taos Pueblo painter and writer Jonathan Warm Day Coming.
Coyotes adapt to the best food source available, whether hunting on the mesas or in the mountains. On their menu is just about anything, including frogs, mice, insects, grass and even house cats. They often hunt rabbits and prairie dogs around these parts and have been known to take sheep. They form groups of two to three in the winter for more effective hunting and can run up to an impressive 40 miles per hour.
Coyotes are excellent swimmers and have a very strong sense of smell, which aids them in the hunt and the escape. The coyote’s main predators are wolves, bears and, of course, humans. They can live up to 14 years in the wild.
The captivating and emotional chorus of the coyote is maybe its most recognizable attribute. Their distinctive howls, high-pitched cries and yelps are a means of communication. At night or during the light of dawn — if you’re lucky — you can hear them echoing through the mountainsides.