A coyote’s den can be a place to raise its young and it can function as a temporary refuge. Dens are a place of protection, not only from predators but from the elements as well.
What is a Coyote Den?
Coyotes make dens out of hollowed-out tree stumps, rocky outcrops, and existing burrows made by other animals. Dens sites are made by either digging out a hole or widening those of foxes, raccoons, and badgers. Coyote dens are mainly used for the birthing and rearing of pups.
These den sites will usually include some cover, like bushes or trees, as well as some sort of slope for drainage. Let’s take a closer look at coyote dens, why they have them, when they use them, and more!
Do Coyotes Use Dens?
Coyotes use dens, but not like you might think. The mating season for coyotes usually starts in February. The Alpha pair are the only coyotes in the pack that will mate.
The gestation period lasts about 62 to 65 days. After this, the pair will start looking for previous den sites that can be rebuilt. Otherwise, if an older den site cannot be reused, they will search for somewhere to make a new den.
Unlike other animals such as prairie dogs, or badgers, coyotes do not use the dens they create year-round. Instead, they only use them for the whelping of pups (delivering their babies and getting them ready for the world) usually from March to June. Source.
Do Coyotes Sleep in Dens?
Coyotes do not usually sleep in dens. They prefer to sleep out in the open or under cover of a low-hanging tree, or brushy area. Only occasionally do coyotes use their dens for other reasons other than raising their young. However, it is not uncommon for a coyote to take a quick nap in a den, or visit a den to make sure it’s still functional.
In order to avoid adverse weather conditions, or avoid threats, coyotes will take refuge in dens. Coyotes usually avoid humans, for the most part, however, they will fiercely defend their den when there are pups present. For this reason, you should avoid a den site if you come across one.
Where are Coyote Dens Found?
Coyote dens are often located on the side of a ravine. One reason is that the soil is sandy or loose and is easy to dig. Another reason they choose these areas is for drainage. The water flows downhill as it rains. This allows for their dens to stay dry.
There are other benefits to making their dens on the side of a steep creek bank or runoff area. Trees with exposed roots are popular den entrance sites for coyotes, and trees grow very large near the edges of creeks.
Logs left from downed trees and rocky outcrops are common in these areas. These are also used for den entrances as they provide cover to the entrance site.
These areas offer a supreme vantage point from which the coyote or coyotes can spot threats from other predators. They also offer easy access to a water source and abundant prey, which is crucial for the coyote’s survival.
While these places offer many advantages, they are certainly not the only place you will find coyote dens. These are likely den sites for coyotes that live away from urban areas.
Closer to cities, they are more apt to make smaller den sites wherever they can. You might find a coyote den in places like under a concrete slab, sidewalk, or driveway in an abandoned or seldomly used building. Also, you might find them in the middle of an undeveloped location.
Coyote Burrows and Other Animals
Coyotes often use already excavated areas as their den sites. For this reason, coyote dens can easily be confused with the dens or burrows of other animals.
From mountains and hill country to deserts and prairies, the denning habits of coyotes are similar in all areas where they live. Effective den recognition requires familiarity with the habits of coyotes.
Besides coming across the dens of other animals, you may see the fresh dug-out dirt and tracks of a coyote and assume it is a den site. In reality, what you have found was a place where a coyote dug out the ground to capture prey.
Coyotes hunt many animals that also burrow. As a result, they will dig out mice, rabbits, and other prey animals. Coyote dens are often found where least expected.
They can use many dens in the same season and will often move their pups to avoid flea infestations. You may come across a freshly dug den site with tracks, however, this does not mean that it is an active den.
Coyote Den Identification
Coyotes are very intelligent animals. For this reason, they are more selective about where they make their den sites versus other animals.
Consequently, if a den site has cover, coupled with other factors such as the sighting of animal scat, coyote-shaped tracks, and/or fur, it is most likely that of the coyote.
Identifying an active coyote den, versus one that is not, can be as simple as listening for the whelps. That is to say, the coyote pups.
What Do Coyote Dens Look Like?
Let’s examine what a coyote den looks like. What is the size and shape of a coyote den? Coyote dens can have one, or many, entrances. The entrance is usually about one foot wide and sixteen to twenty-four inches tall.
Depending upon the condition of the soil and other factors, dens can be as shallow as a couple of feet. Dens can be 6 feet or more in length.
When a den site has been used for multiple years, and with the right conditions, dens can be as long as fifteen feet or more. Coyote dens can have many twists and turns.
Upon entering a coyote den, you will find that it often turns upward at first. This is almost sure to divert water. Even in the Great Plains, any slope is a likely place for a coyote den. Even if it is just four or five feet.
Once inside, coyote dens can be from three to six feet below the surface.
Coyote Den Behavior
While both coyotes in the alpha pair will initially start to dig, it is the pregnant female that spends most of her time expanding the den site. Sometimes the sites can be elaborate, having six or more entrances.
At this same time, the male is hunting and defending their territory. After the pups are born, the pair will spend more time around the den and limit their hunting range accordingly.
Coyotes are territorial animals. This is especially true when denning with pups. As the coyote aggressively defends against, not only people, but rival coyotes, dogs, and other predators.
Coyote Dens and Pups
While the pups are nursing, the female will remain with them. The male will bring her food to the den site. The only time she leaves the pups is to eat or drink.
It is interesting to note that lone males and barren females will instinctively dig dens even though they will not use them. Also, interesting to note is the fact that a female that has lost her pups will continue to expand the den until she has reconciled with her loss.
With the expectant mother safely tucked away in the den, the male will let out a woof when he perceives a threat coming near the den site.
This woof is a purposely low-intensity sound meant to travel only a short distance. This is done to alert other coyotes in the den without attracting too much attention.
See our article for Coyote Sounds
After having given birth, the female is most often in the den while the pups are of suckling age. She is seldom present, though, after the pups are old enough to be fed and play outside the den.
When the pups will go in and out of the den entrance, depends, largely on how steep it is. When the mother coyote leaves the den, she will always back out, unless startled, and all the tracks will appear as if she is entering the den.
As a result, determining whether she is in the den or not is difficult at this time. When the pups are about eight to ten weeks old the dens are abandoned. Source.
Coyote Den vs Fox Den
One difference between fox and coyote dens is the size of the entrance. Fox den entrance holes tend to be eight to nine inches wide and ten to eleven inches wide. Coyotes need more room. Their entrances are usually wider and taller.
When trying to determine if you have discovered a coyote or fox den, be careful. You might just discover that there is a badger or a skunk in there. You don’t want to meet either of these animals, face-to-face, or face to tail, as it were.
Coyote Den vs Groundhog Hole
Groundhog holes are usually found on more level ground than coyote dens. Also, the holes tend to be smaller than those of the coyote. A dead giveaway for coyotes is the amount of cover near the entrance.
A groundhog hole is usually found in colonies. The soil around the entrance will also be mounded, higher than the surrounding soil.
Just like many other animals in the wild, coyotes use the resources that they have around them. They have been known to use burrows from other animals and they put thought into where the location of a den site should be.
They are smart, resourceful, adaptive, and more. I wouldn’t want to come across a coyote den out in the wild, but learning what one is and how it looks is definitely helpful!