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Distribution and Abundance of Predators that Affect
Duck Production: Prairie Pothole Region

Species Accounts -- Carnivores


Habitat and History. The coyote is adapted to prairie environments (Young and Jackson 1951; Andelt and Gipson 1979; Jones et al. 1983). Coyotes were distributed throughout the prairie pothole region before settlement (Young and Jackson 1951), but populations were low; in many areas they were less abundant than gray wolves (Bailey 1926). Gray wolves are antagonistic toward and reduce the abundance of coyotes (Mech 1970; Johnson and Sargeant 1977; Berg and Chesness 1978; Fuller and Keith 1981; Carbyn 1982). Coyote populations throughout the prairie pothole region increased substantially after settlement and after intensive control of the gray wolf (Bailey 1926; N. Criddle 1929; Bird 1930; Rand 1948b; Johnson and Sargeant 1977). By the early 1900's, coyotes were numerous in most areas (N. Criddle 1929; Williams 1946).

Coyotes prey on livestock, especially sheep, and on various game species (Bird 1961; Andelt 1987). As a result, coyotes throughout the prairie pothole region have been subjected to controls that include bounties, denning (killing pups at dens), shooting from aircraft, use of toxicants, and other methods (S. Criddle 1929; Bird 1930, 1961; Young and Jackson 1951; Adams 1961; Stoudt 1971; Johnson and Sargeant 1977; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1978; Andelt 1987). Coyotes have also been extensively hunted and trapped for fur and recreation. Most mortality is inflicted by humans (Voigt and Berg 1987), and a strong case can be made that human-inflicted mortality has severely suppressed coyote populations in many parts of the prairie pothole region. The effect was greatest in intensively farmed areas in the southeastern portion of the region where coyotes were largely extirpated from many localities beginning about 1920 but especially after the 1940's (Johnson and Sargeant 1977). Control of coyotes continues in parts of the region but is less extensive than in the past, and coyotes are repopulating many areas from which they had been largely eliminated (A. B. Sargeant, personal observation).

Population Structure. Coyote populations in spring are composed of family groups (generally a mated pair and one or more adult associates) and a few transients (Andelt 1985; Voigt and Berg 1987). Family groups occupy relatively discrete territories; home ranges of territorial individuals range from about 5 to 80 km2 and include most of the family territory (Laundre and Keller 1984; Andelt 1985; Allen et al. 1987; Voigt and Berg 1987). Sargeant et al. (1987a) found that coyote territories in a low population in North Dakota averaged 61 km2, whereas Roy and Dorrance (1985) found that coyote home ranges in a higher population in Alberta averaged 12 km2. Home range size is inversely related to abundance and where coyotes are common or more abundant, all suitable habitat is included in coyote territories (Andelt 1985; Allen et al. 1987).

Distribution and Abundance. Coyotes were present each year in all study areas except three in western Minnesota and two in eastern North Dakota, but abundance increased from southeast to northwest across the prairie pothole region (Fig. 5, Appendix Table 5). They were common or more abundant in a significantly greater percentage of study areas in Canada than in the United States (Appendix Table 6). In Canada, coyotes were numerous in 10 study areas (63%) and common in all others. In the United States, they were common in eight study areas (47%) and uncommon or less abundant in the others.

The percentage of study areas in which coyotes were common or more abundant did not differ between the prairie and aspen parkland (Appendix Table 7). However, the highest populations of coyotes were in study areas in the aspen parkland of Alberta and Saskatchewan (Fig. 5). Coyotes were numerous in all 8 study areas in that portion of the region, but in only 2 of the 25 other study areas. Coyotes were especially numerous in three study areas (Hay Lakes, Holden, Yorkton) where their tracks were in all searched quarter sections (Appendix Table 5). Ten of 12 active rearing dens in study areas in Canada were in those three areas (Appendix Table 8). Five of the dens were in one study area (Hay Lakes) in 1984 and probably represented at least four coyote families. Those dens were widely spaced (nearest dens of neighboring coyote families were 3.2 km apart) and were simultaneously occupied by coyote pups. That number of active rearing dens in 26 km2 indicated the population was very high and comparable to high-density populations reported elsewhere in North America (Andelt 1985). Only four coyote dens were found (all by aerial searches) in study areas in the United States.

Sargeant et al. (1987a) reported that coyote families in portions of North Dakota where coyote populations are low tend to center their activities in the most roadless areas, where cropland is least abundant. That pattern of occupancy was evident in several study areas, especially in the prairie of Canada where habitats of some study areas were divided between large blocks of intensively farmed cropland and portions of multi-section, largely roadless pastures (e.g., Ceylon, Goodwater). All portions of studied large multi-section pastures were occupied by coyotes; portions of study areas unoccupied by coyotes were always intensively farmed cropland. However, coyotes were present throughout several intensively farmed study areas (e.g., Earl Grey, Inchkeith), demonstrating the suitability of that habitat for occupancy. The apparent habitat-related differences in distribution of coyotes in individual study areas probably reflected differences in survival rates from human-inflicted mortality more than differences in habitat suitability.

Fig. 5. Percentage of searched quarter sections (in black) by study area in which coyote tracks were found or in which the abundance of tracks was estimated during two systematic annual searches in April-June in greater than or equal to 1 study year (Appendix table 5) and ratings of the abundance of coyote in each area, 1983-88. Results for study areas searched >1 year were averaged; study areas are in the prairie pothole region.

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