Coyote tracks and sign can be found throughout North America in nearly all habitat types. They are highly adaptable, living in wilderness, rural, suburban, and even urban areas. They eat a wide range of foods from small rodents, to birds, fruits, berries, and grains.
Tracks: Coyote footprints are oval-shaped and measure approximately 2.5 inches long by 2 inches wide. They register four toes with claws in both front and hind feet. Their tracks are relatively symmetrical, though they can show a slight lead toe/claw that allows left and right feet to be differentiated. Their foot pad is roughly triangular-shaped. The hind foot is slightly smaller than the front foot and registers a smaller foot pad. The photo to the right shows a hind track above a front track.
Gaits: Coyotes utilize a variety of gaits, including walking, trotting, loping, and galloping gaits. One of their favored gaits is an overstep trot, where front and hind feet on the same side of the body land close together, with the hind landing slightly ahead of the front. These trotting gaits leave a line of tracks that is very straight and narrow. When utilizing a trot, step lengths between groups of tracks often measure from 15 to 22 inches. The picture below shows a slow trot, where each hind track has landed slightly behind the front track.
Scat: Coyote scat is often rope-like, very tapered, and spongy, with a diameter of approximately 1/2 of an inch. The contents can vary widely due to their omnivorous diet, though it is often gray-colored and filled with hair and bones of small rodents. It is usually placed in the middle of trails, dirt roads, or trail/road intersections. Latrines (places where multiple scats have been deposited) are common. Coyote scat often does not have much of a scent.
Similar Tracks: Domestic dog tracks are often mistaken as coyote footprints. Tracks of domestic dogs are generally rounder, have blunt nails, and are less symmetrical. Another feature that helps distinguish coyote from domestic dog tracks relates to the negative space between the toes and pad. On coyotes, an X-shape can be drawn in the negative space, whereas on most domestic dogs, the negative space does not form an X-shape. For comparison, pictured below is a coyote footprint (on the left) next to a domestic dog track (on the right).
References: Elbroch 2003, Halfpenny 1999, Murie 1954, Rezendes 1999.
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About the Author: Jason Knight is a cofounder of Alderleaf Wilderness College and the author of The Essential Skills of Wilderness Survival. He has been teaching wilderness skills for over twenty-five years. Learn more about Jason Knight.