Tracking the Coyote

The coyote is the most visible predator in our region and probably in North America. Its tracks can be found in most wild places in California and elsewhere in the West. The coyote is a canine and its track patterns are very similar to all canines including foxes and wolves. The tracks below were sketched in my notebooks in 1986. The clear track is a bit puzzling to me, but its the way I sketched it on site. The size of the track is about right for  coyote, but I am surprised by the distance to the front nail print.

I don’t recall the circumstances of that track sketch, but I’m sure I was convinced it was a coyote at the time. One way to explain away the long nail print would be that it  was a domestic dog, but for now I’ll continue to believe it was a coyote track. Even if it was left by a domestic dog, the dimentions of the track are good for a coyote, except for the long toe nail. Such is the nature of tracking. You seldom see the animal to confirm, without question, your conclusion.

Canines are diagonal walkers which means that the right front foot and left rear foot move forward at the same time and the left foot falls nearly into the track of the left front foot (same with the right side).

I’ve read that the rear foot typically falls in front of the front foot when walking, but it didn’t in this case. The speed of the walk may be a factor here. This is probably a slow walking coyote.

In the stride-measured print, the size seems to be consistent with other observations. In this case the stride remained constant not only for the two steps shown, but also for several others that I had no room for. Therefore the coyote near Bogard Ranger Station, California was walking purposefully at a slow rate of  speed, but probably not hunting. If the wild dog had been hunting, I would expect that the stride would have varied a great deal as the coyote slowed to listen and look for mice or other prey.

For some reason, I didn’t measure the trail width of this series of tracks. My sketch has the prints falling almost directly in a straight line, but I doubt that they were, so it only is an indication of stride and not trail width.Coyotes prints are typically indirect register which means the prints are separate or over lap each other. In this case the print of the rear foot covers most of  the front foot. Unlike coyotes and domestic canines, foxes tend to place their rear foot directly into the track of the front foot. This is called direct register.

coyote tracks

I found the coyote pictured below on a trip to Yellowstone Park about ten years ago. He was a beggar and hung out along the road waiting for a handout, much unlike most coyotes which are elusive and wary. I guess that’s why I couldn’t find any photos of coyotes from trips to the ranch, where they are often seen, but always with their rear to the camera – usually running.

Coyote at Yellowstone cropped

When coyotes and other canines run, they leave a series of tracks where all four paws hit the ground near each other and the distance between the series of prints is greater than the distance in between prints. I’ve got some good track patterns of my Labrador running and I plan to include them in a later post. The track patterns of domestic dogs are very similar to wild canines, but the tame critters are probably not as athletic.

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