Using live traps and dog collars, a landowner in northwest Ohio has been conducting his own research into how far coyotes can travel. David Yankee’s homespun coyote-tracking project has been underway for more than a year, and last week it yielded its most interesting result yet.
On March 17, Yankee learned that one of the coyotes he’d collared in January 2022 had traveled more than a hundred miles across the state, making it all the way from his property near Kenton to a location south of Lancaster, where it was shot and killed by a hunter. The young male had to cross multiple interstates, duck countless fences, and circumnavigate Ohio’s biggest city to get there, proving how determined these animals are when searching for a mate or a new territory.
“My mind is blown!” Yankee wrote on Facebook last Thursday. “Today I received a phone call from a gentleman that called in one of my collared coyotes last night and [he] let me know the location where it was killed. South of LANCASTER, Ohio! That’s 107 miles if you go in a straight line, and you know it didn’t.”
The coyote’s exact route is impossible to determine since it was fitted with a basic dog collar (as opposed to the electronic tracking collars used by wildlife agencies). But Yankee pointed out in his Facebook post that in order to reach the location south of Lancaster, the animal would have had to cross I-10, I-71, I-40, and I-33, along with plenty of other high-traffic roadways—which, Yankee said, “is incredible in itself.”
As a landowner who also hunts, Yankee was already trapping coyotes on his property when he came up with the idea to start his own citizen-science project last year.
“I have always wondered how we can kill so many and they just keep pouring in like nothing else ever happened,” he explained.
So, in January 2022, Yankee fit two of the coyotes he’d trapped with basic collars that included his name and phone number. After releasing them both, he killed one of the collared coyotes on his property later that year. The other one was never accounted for, and he forgot about it until last Thursday, when the hunter south of Lancaster called him after killing the animal.
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Yankee conducted this experiment without the explicit permission of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, and a DNR spokesperson tells Outdoor Life that what Yankee did was illegal. The departments division of wildlife does not allow members of the public to conduct their own research projects on wild animals without a permit, as this could lead to confusion (and potentially chaos) for wildlife managers.
The DNR has since spoken with Yankee to explain this, and he has not been charged or fined for his actions. The agency confirms that Yankee was apologetic and unaware that he was breaking the law.
“If one person could do it, any person could do it for any reason,” the spokesperson says. “And you can see the potential danger in the public just catching wild animals, putting various tags and markings on them, and then cutting them loose with no other plan or legitimacy behind it.”
Coyotes Are Thriving in Ohio and Beyond
The Ohio DNR points out that unlike many other wildlife species, coyotes thrive in developed areas. Instead of avoiding suburbs, farms, and other habitats that have been altered by man, they seem to gravitate to these landscapes.
“The coyote’s strength is that it can adapt and exploit most any habitat to its advantage,” reads the agency’s website.
As the number of humans living in Ohio has grown over the last few decades, so has its coyote population. The species can be found in all 88 counties, and while the DNR doesn’t have an estimate for their overall numbers, hunter surveys show the population climbing steadily in the 1990s and early 2000s.
The same can be said of nearby Illinois. In fact, there are so many coyotes living in and around Chicago that a comprehensive study of the species is now underway in the metropolitan area.
Known as the Urban Coyote Research Project, the study is helping wildlife researchers better understand how the species interacts with other wildlife, domestic animals, and humans. A major part of the study is trapping and collaring coyotes to monitor where they end up. This is essentially the same thing that Yankee has been doing, albeit on a much larger and more advanced scale. The ongoing study has revealed some insights into how far coyotes can travel and why.
How Far Can Coyotes Travel?
Researchers with the Urban Coyote Research Project have collared and tracked more than 500 coyotes since 2000. In that time, they’ve witnessed the dynamics among different family groups, which typically number around five to six adults along with their pups. Like wolves, they depend on these family groups to maintain and defend their respective territories, which are typically around 10 to 12 square miles.
“In addition to [these] resident packs,” the Project points out, “the urban population also consists of solitary coyotes that have left packs and are looking to join groups or create their own territories.”
According to the study, between one-third and one-half of the coyotes tracked each year are solitary animals. These solitary coyotes are usually young (six months to two years old), and they are the real travelers in the population. They occupy much larger home ranges—up to 60 square miles—that can be up to six times the size of the territories held by family groups.
With this in mind, it’s more than likely that the young male Yankee collared was a solitary coyote looking for a new home range. Still, it’s not even close to the farthest-ranging coyote on record.
In a paper published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency points to a juvenile male that traveled more than 192 miles after it was trapped and radio-collared in northwest Montana. That coyote was killed by a fur trapper near Crownsest Pass in Alberta roughly 17 months after it was collared and released.
“To our knowledge, this is the longest documented movement by a coyote in western North America,” authors Jay Kolbe and John Squires write in the study.
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Kolbe and Squires specify, however, that “movements of equal or greater lengths” by coyotes have been documented in other parts of the country—particularly in the Central plains and eastern forest regions. According to their paper, at least three coyotes have been documented traveling more than 300 miles since 1978. Those individuals were tracked across Iowa and Missouri, Maine and Vermont, and into Ontario, Canada. A fourth coyote that was tracked in 1986 traveled 544 miles across Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
These vast distances far surpass the 100-plus miles that Yankee’s collared coyote traveled across Ohio, and they give an even better idea of how far coyotes can travel when they’re in the mood to move.
This article was updated March 21, 2023 to include comments from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.