Extension Wildlife Specialist
Iowa State University
Among the hundreds of wildlife species found in Iowa, few are so common that we can assert with relative confidence that each night, every person in Iowa would find themselves only a mile or two away from one. Perhaps deer rise to this level of ubiquity. Perhaps pigeons or mourning doves too. But one species that is certainly on this short list is also one of the most polarizing wildlife species found in the state – the coyote.
We can all admire the resilience and remarkable adaptability of this Iowa native. Coyotes have found a way to survive from river to river in Iowa’s highly varied landscape. Surviving among shelterbelts and fencerows in a matrix of endless rows of corn or beans just the same as they can survive in the depths of the Des Moines Metro between parking lots and bus lines.
Coyotes are remarkable for their capacity to adapt to their surroundings and find ways to survive. The dietary breadth of the coyote is one important factor that promotes its survival among these myriad of human-shared landscapes. A coyote is just as content to eat a bushel of raspberries as it is to eat a ‘bushy-tailed’ rabbit. In the aggregate though, we find coyotes are primarily a small-mammal specialist, with research studies in Iowa and other Midwestern states revealing mice, voles, or rabbits comprise 90% of the coyote’s typical meal.
Owing to their notoriously weary disposition and their tendency to be primarily nocturnal, coyotes often go unseen. However, the same cannot be said for their vocalizations, which are so characteristic of the species that scientists’ Latin name for coyotes – Canis latrans – translates to ‘barking dog’.
Occasionally, this affinity for noise making and predatory lifestyle earns the coyote the ire of rural and urban residents alike. In some cases, that ire is well-earned, when an occasional bad-actor will learn to capture domestic animals like dogs, cats, or young livestock. However, that is typically the exception for coyotes, and the vast majority of coyotes carry out their lives without threatening human pets or livelihoods.
Simple measures are effective in preventing conflicts with coyotes that can further reduce the chances for problem encounters with domestic animals. Keeping livestock close to human dwellings at night, especially during calving, lambing, or kidding seasons can help. So too can livestock protection animals like llamas, dogs, or donkeys. Keeping pets indoors or supervised while outside arrests risks in cities.
Simple measures like these can ensure that the rare, fleeting interactions we have with this remarkably common species are positive ones, whether they come by sight or as a nightly serenade for those lucky enough to tune in to what Iowa’s wild ‘barking dog’ has to say.