Coyotes are often shrouded in mystery, their furtive nature and nocturnal habits leaving many wondering just when these clever canines come out. If you’ve ever asked yourself ‘when do coyotes come out?’ or want to know more about coyote activity cycles, you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: coyotes are most active at dawn and dusk, but may be out moving any time of day or night.

In this nearly 3,000 word guide, we’ll explore in detail the factors impacting when coyotes come out, including time of day, time of year, weather conditions, habitat and more. You’ll learn exactly when coyotes are most active in your area and understand what drives their activity cycles throughout the year.

Coyote Activity Often Peaks at Dawn and Dusk

Crepuscular Nature Maximizes Hunting Opportunities

As crepuscular animals, coyotes tend to be most active during the low-light hours around dawn and dusk (crepuscular referring to animals active during twilight). This aligns with the prime hunting times for many small mammals that comprise their diet, like mice, voles and rabbits.

Being active when prey is also on the move allows coyotes to maximize their chances of a successful hunt.

Studies using telemetry tracking have shown that coyote activity levels tend to peak in early morning and late afternoon/early evening. Their crepuscular nature provides the advantage of low visibility, which aids coyotes in stalking prey.

It also allows them to largely avoid direct confrontations with apex predators like wolves, who are more active during daytime hours.

Weather Conditions Impact Dawn and Dusk Activity

While coyotes default to crepuscular behavior in general, specific weather conditions can impact the level of activity exhibited at dawn and dusk.

  • Clear, cool nights tend to correspond with high early morning coyote activity as it provides ideal hunting conditions.
  • Overcast, rainy days see lower coyote movement in the evening twilight hours.
  • During winter months, coyotes expand hunting into daylight hours probably to maximize food intake in harsh conditions.

A study by wildlife researchers revealed that winter weather corresponds to higher diurnal activity as coyotes spend more time hunting. In contrast, hot summer weather leads to largely nocturnal behavior to avoid heat.

Other Wildlife Activity Influences Coyote Movement

Coyotes share habitat and hunting grounds with other wildlife, resulting in interconnected activity patterns. At dawn and dusk when deer, elk, and moose are moving between feeding areas, coyotes often track them hoping to scavenge a meal from their kills.

And coyotes will shadow smaller predators like foxes and raccoons who stir up prey that coyotes can then ambush.

Wildlife Influence on Coyote Activity
Deer, elk, moose Follow their movements to scavenge kills
Foxes, raccoons Shadow them and steal stirred-up prey

These commensal hunting relationships allow coyotes to maximize food intake with minimal energy expenditure. So dawn and dusk hours often coincide with higher coyote activity influenced by the movement of other wildlife they interact with.

Coyotes May Be Active Day or Night Depending on Habitat

Urban Coyotes Tend to Be Nocturnal

Coyotes living in urban and suburban areas often become nocturnal to avoid contact with humans. These clever canines have adapted their behavior to take advantage of the cover of darkness in order to hunt, while minimizing potentially dangerous interactions with people.

According to research by wildlife biologists, urban coyotes do 60-70% of their hunting at night when there is less human activity. They may spend their days resting in parks, greenbelts, or other natural areas until the sun goes down.

This nocturnal strategy allows urban coyotes to survive and even thrive in close proximity to human populations.

Rural Coyotes More Often Active During Daytime

In rural habitats with lower human population densities, coyotes tend to be more diurnal (active during the day). Without the threat of constant human disturbance, rural coyotes can hunt and go about their daily routines while the sun is up.

According to The Humane Society, these coyotes may be out searching for food like mice, rabbits or other small mammals during daylight hours. However, rural coyotes will still limit daytime activity during hunting season, reverting to more nocturnal habits to avoid hunters.

A study of rural coyote activity patterns in upstate New York found the canids were predominately crepuscular, meaning they were most active around dawn and dusk. This likely allows them to utilize daylight for hunting while also minimizing encounters with humans during peak activity times.

The study found rural coyotes spent about 40% of daylight hours resting in dens or other concealed areas.

Denning Season Sees Heightened Daytime Activity

Coyote activity patterns may shift during breeding and denning season, typically from mid-January through June. According to wildlife experts, coyotes (especially males) tend to be more active during daylight as they hunt to provision their mates and growing pups.

A study in Yellowstone National Park found coyotes spent over 50% more time hunting during denning season compared to non-denning times of year.

In addition to increased hunting, denning parents may need to move pups from a den site to new locations. Coyotes commonly utilize multiple den sites within their territory, moving young between them for protective purposes.

These daylight den transitions can lead to more observations of coyote family units on the move.

Breeding Season and Pup Rearing Change Activity Cycles

Finding Mates Takes Precedence in January-March

Coyotes become more active and visible during their breeding season, which generally runs from January through March. Finding a mate is the top priority for coyotes at this time of year. Coyotes will roam farther distances and be out during daylight hours more often as they search for potential partners.

The females come into estrus only once a year for 2-5 days. It is critical that males locate females when they are receptive to breeding. This urgency leads to increased daytime activity as the normally nocturnal coyotes take advantage of the visual cues offered by daylight to locate mates.

In addition to spending more time moving around their territories, breeding coyotes engage in “group yip-howls” more often from January to March. These vocalizations help the coyotes advertise their location and bring potential mates together.

The coyotes’ need to find the right partner overrides their usual tendency to lay low during the day. Their driven focus on reproduction makes them take more risks even if it means exposing themselves in broad daylight.

Gestation Drives Daytime Resting Behavior

Once female coyotes are successfully bred, their behavior changes to support the gestation period of 60-63 days. Pregnant coyotes need plenty of rest and nourishment for the developing pups, so the females become less active and avoid risks from January through April.

They retreat to their dens during the day to sleep and protect the growing fetuses. The mothers may still come out at dawn or dusk to hunt when prey is abundant, but otherwise rest as much as possible.

The male coyotes also switch over to reduced daytime activity once mating is over. They stand guard and bring food to the pregnant females so the mothers-to-be can conserve their energy. The males may still patrol the territory boundaries if needed but do not wander as widely as during breeding season.

Coyotes of both sexes are much less likely to be roaming around or making noise in the early morning or afternoon at this time of year.

Raising Young Keeps Adults Busy Round-the-Clock

Coyote pups are born after about 63 days of gestation, usually in April or May. For the first 6-8 weeks after birth, the parents have no choice but to be active night and day in order to hunt enough food for their fast-growing litter.

The female spends most of her time nursing the pups in the den, which forces the male to take on most of the hunting duties.

Coyotes have large litters, averaging about 6 pups but sometimes up to 12. Feeding that many hungry youngsters is an immense task, requiring the adults to hunt almost continuously. They cannot adhere to their usual nocturnal habits and must take advantage of daylight as well to find sufficient food.

This includes being active near dawn and dusk as well as risking occasional daytime activity.

Both parents bring food back to the den for the first 6-8 weeks until the pups are old enough to start venturing out themselves. They progressively spend more time away from the den site as they learn to hunt alongside their parents.

By the fall, the pups have matured enough to disperse and find their own territories. With the demands of pup-rearing finished for the year, the adult coyotes can finally return to their regular nighttime routines.

Seasonal Variations Reflect Changing Energetic Demands

Winter Cold Conserves Energy in Northern Climates

Coyotes living in northern areas with harsh winters tend to be less active during the cold months. Frigid temperatures make it more difficult for coyotes to maintain their body heat. As a result, they conserve energy by resting more and restricting their movements (Lincoln Park Zoo).

Coyote activity drops significantly when temperatures fall below -18°C (0°F).

Coyotes may even forego hunting altogether on the coldest winter days. Instead, they rely on fat stores they built up by gorging during the fall to subsist until warmer weather allows them to hunt again more easily.

Their winter lethargy enables northern coyotes to survive on up to 50% less daily food intake compared to warmer seasons.

Warmer Months Support More Constant Activity

As temperatures increase in spring and summer, northern coyotes become more active again. Warmer weather makes it easier for them to maintain their body heat, allowing coyotes to be out searching and hunting for long hours without expending as much energy regulating their temperature.

Coyotes in warmer southern climates maintain relatively stable activity levels year-round. Since winters are less harsh, coyotes do not need to conserve as much energy. Their daily movements fluctuate far less compared to northern coyotes that drastically reduce activity from winter to summer.

Average Daily Movements Northern Coyotes Southern Coyotes
Winter 5 km 10 km
Summer 15 km 12 km

Late Summer and Fall Bring Peak Hunting and Scavenging

As temperatures cool down in the fall, northern coyotes begin increasing their activity levels again. This reflects efforts to pack on fat and weight in preparation for the coming winter. Coyotes may spend upwards of 62% of fall days hunting, their peak activity for the year (Scientific American).

Late summer and fall is also when coyotes do the majority of their scavenging. With lots of hunter kills and carrion available from other predators as well as dying, weak prey, it is an optimal time for coyotes to supplement their diet with easy large meat sources.

Conclusion

As we’ve explored here, coyote activity levels fluctuate in complex ways across the daily, seasonal and annual cycles. Their flexible, opportunistic nature allows them to maximize resource acquisition while minimizing risk of predation or conflict across a diversity of habitats.

While coyotes likely roam near your home or property year-round, understanding the factors that impact their activity patterns can give you better insight into this adaptable canine.

The bottom line is that if food is abundant and risks are low, coyotes may move about at any hour. But you’re most likely to spot them around dawn or dusk, especially in cooler months. Their skilled ability to thrive under cover of darkness helps them coexist close at hand, often just out of sight.

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