The Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project



  Coyote Habitat



  • Natural & Urban Habitat

  • Signs of Coyote Presence

Natives of the plains and deserts, coyotes have expanded their range eastward to include all of the eastern United States.  Click here to view their current Distribution.


HABITAT: Where do coyotes live?

Natural Habitat: Although coyotes can use any habitat, they typically prefer open habitats, such as prairie and desert. In addition to occurring in natural areas, coyotes are also found in a range of human-populated areas, including rural farms, suburbs and cities.

Current research, including the Cook County Urban Coyote Project, is dedicated to understanding coyote habitat selection within natural and urban areas, in order to understand if coyotes benefit from human-associated developments (i.e. are synanthropic species) or if they are merely occurring in human-populated areas due to increased sprawl and fragmentation

Urban Habitat: In urban areas, coyotes prefer wooded patches and shrubbery, which provides shelter to hide from people.  Our research has found that within the urban matrix, coyotes will avoid residential, commercial, and industrial areas, but will use any remaining habitat fragments, such as those found in parks and golf courses

Coyotes in Chicago:  Coyotes were initially present at the founding of the Chicago site in the 18th century, but disappeared during most of the 19th and 20th centuries. They originally came from open grasslands and deserts, but have adjusted quickly to other habitats.  Many predators, including coyotes, were initially excluded as cities were developed across the Midwest.

This pattern is true of the Chicago region, where coyotes were originally native to the area but largely disappeared by the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the area developed into a major metropolitan area. However, during the 20th century, coyotes expanded their range eastward to include all of the eastern United States and began appearing in large metropolitan areas across their historic and expanded range.

See Territories & Home Ranges to learn more about coyote use of urban and natural habitat.


COYOTE SIGNS: How Do I Know If Coyotes Are Around My House?

Most coyotes are never directly seen by the public, but other clues can be used to determine if coyotes are in the area.

Howling:  Coyotes may advertise the occupancy of a territory to other coyotes by group howling.

A graduate student from The Ohio State University tested some of our packs by playing tapes of howling from captive coyotes in the middle of their territories, and recording our coyotes’ responses. She found evidence that coyotes were capable of identifying individuals from their calls, and are aware of the number of coyotes calling during group howling bouts. Howling may also serve as a social bonding mechanism within the pack. However, it is impossible to know all the reasons why coyotes do things, and who knows, some coyotes may howl because it feels good!!!

Coyotes emit a range of sounds including howls, barks, and whines.  Their howling has resulted in more myth and mystery than perhaps any aspect of their behavior. Many people consider the howling of coyotes to be the symbol of the West, or at least a vestige of wilderness.

But, do coyotes in urban areas howl?  In Cook County we have observed that some groups howl frequently, whereas other groups rarely howl. For example, we observed a coyote group that had a territory which included a fire station, and those coyotes regularly howled in response to the sirens of emergency vehicles. Other groups were rarely, if ever, heard howling.

Scat: Scats are the feces deposited by coyotes and other wildlife.  Coyote scats are ropelike and typically filled with hair and bones, whereas dog scat is soft with dog food.

Coyotes use scats for communication and so they usually deposit scats in the middle of trails or near the borders of their territories where they are easily seen.

Tracks: The presence of tracks and scat (feces) are often indicators of coyote presence in parks or neighborhoods, but at times these signs can be difficult to distinguish from those of dogs.




The Cook County, Illinois, Coyote Project

The Ohio State University