Are Coyotes Always in Packs?

The Question: I was northbound on 71 this afternoon, south of Grove City, Ohio the only hilly part of the trip from Jeffersonville to Columbus. I glanced to the right and saw a canine descending the hill. I couldn’t decide – coyote or fox until I got home to the Internet – even though I was pretty sure it as a coyote. I am pretty sure it was not just a stray dog. Granted, it would have been nearly impossible (at 70 mph!) to see if there were others lurking further up the hillside but most references list coyotes as pack animals. Are they often solitary since they are fairly recent immigrants or did I make an identity mistake?

Submitted by: Karen S., Ohio

The Short Answer: Karen, Coyotes (Canis latrans) are nothing if not adaptable, and their social structure varies. In the eastern part of the United States, coyote packs are smaller than in the west, and can often consist of one adult pair and their pups. When the pups grow to adulthood, they may all disperse. This creates a lot of “transient” coyotes, who are moving in search of an open territory. One study that put radio collars on coyotes found that about a third of them quickly disappeared, meaning they probably were transients who were only moving through the area. Also, pack members don’t necessarily stay with each other 24 hours a day. So there are many opportunities for you to see a single adult coyote. There’s no way to say for sure that’s what you saw, but there’s no reason that you couldn’t have seen a solitary coyote.

More Information: Coyote packs range in size from two adults to about ten, plus pups. The pack always includes an alpha male and female, and beta adults only very rarely breed unless they ascend to alpha status. Some beta adults will leave a pack in the hopes of finding a better situation, either in an open territory, or with an alpha coyote that has lost its mate. Coyotes breed once a year, in the spring, with litter sizes usually from four to eight pups. They often adjust their litter size to fit the available resources. More food, larger litters. Less food, smaller litters. This presents a challenge when people try to control coyote populations. If you reduce the number of adults in an area, by trapping, or hunting, that increases the food supply for the remaining coyotes, which then increase their litter size, and the population bounces right back.

Coyotes are territorial, so one pack will exclude any other coyotes. One of the ways they do that is by advertising their presence. That’s probably a major reason for their howling. I’ve often heard coyotes howling and thought “It sounds like a large pack of coyotes killing something.” But I had an experience once that changed my interpretation. At the time, I was on the board of directors of a small local zoo. We had an early meeting, and to beat the traffic, I arrived even earlier than I needed to. That meant I was killing time, wandering around the zoo at about 7:30 in the morning. As I approached the large coyote enclosure, the zoo’s pair began howling. I had never been that close to howling coyotes before and what surprised me was that it sounded just like what I had always interpreted as “a large pack of coyotes killing something.” But it was only two animals, sitting on opposite ends of their enclosure, singing to the morning.

So their howling song can be misleading. You might think you have a large pack living near you, when it’s just a pair.

Cite this article as: Pelletier, TC. (May 13, 2010). Are Coyotes Always in Packs? Retrieved from on July 3, 2020.

10 thoughts on “Are Coyotes Always in Packs?”

  1. Assuming this is a real comment and not just a spam comment, all I can say is “It’s short for me!” 🙂 Come on, the Short Answer part is only 148 words. Too much for you?

  2. I heard what I thought was a huge pack of coyotes last night. Having horses it always concerns me when I hear the yipping in the middle of the night. Am relieved to know that it was probably only a couple of coyotes and not a huge pack of them. Thank you for sharing your observation. That will certainly make me rest a lot easier knowing that the next time they come around!

  3. Ann,

    I don’t think coyotes will harm horses but they might spook them to the extent that the horses harm themselves.

  4. Dimitri & Ann,
    I know from experience with my animals that a coyote can and will injure and most likely kill a horse. They will not kill them immediately as they are much to small for that however, they will bite the back of a large animal’s leg to bring it to the ground and eat it alive until it’s killed by most likely by blood loss. So you should be cautious of coyotes with your horses however, if you have a sturdy fence then they shouldn’t pose a great threat. If you are having issues I’d suggest getting some of the electric netting fence as that will make it nearly impossible for the coyote to get in even if they tried.

  5. I Know the party line is coyotes hunt singly or in pairs occasionally in small packs and most coyotes I see do, and never bother our goats and cattle despite close frequent contact, but along river bottoms in central Texas where you see deer and turkey moving in herds of thirty and flocks of fifty or more, I’ve seen groups twenty+ strong hunt deer. If you really want to see them in massive groups go to San Luis Potosí, especially the water at Las Animas. Never got to watch them hunt but saw congregations of well over a hundred and could hear them killing wild donkeys in the night. Coming from a ranch family, I’ve known as few as three dogs to kill a horse or cow, so maybe the water was bringing the coyotes together and not the hunt, but most coyotes I’ve met were cowards and I can’t imagine a pack of less than a dozen going after a donkey.

  6. I only started seeing coyotes in my area within the past couple years but I always only see one by it’s self…
    I know they are extremely adaptable to nearly any situation.
    Do they sometimes act more like the red fox by keeping to themselves until the females go into heat?

  7. Hi Animalman, you don’t say where your area is. Coyotes definitely hunt some of the time on their own. And if they are new to your area, it’s possible you are seeing transients who don’t have a mate.

  8. We are having a lot of commotion lately with the coyotes. I know that there are at least a group of four from what other neighbors have seen, although it certainly sounds like more!. We brought home a flock of sheep and the coyotes have figured out that they are here now and things have been wild at night the past few evenings. I don’t enjoy killing anything but do it when necessary and would much rather coexist. I have gotten a pair of Akbash dogs but they are still young. Any thoughts or ideas will be gratefully considered.

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