Both coyotes and wolves are generally skittish or afraid of humans; but like all wild animals, people should keep their distance. Coyotes and wolves are occasionally seen during the day but are most active after sunset. If prey becomes scarce for these animals, they may prowl around urban areas. In August of 2021, coyotes were reported to have attacked humans on several occasions, biting runners on the leg in Stanley Park of Vancouver BC.

If You Encounter a Coyote or Wolf. If you encounter coyotes while hiking, they most likely will be scared off with hazing – yelling, waving your arms, using noise makers, and throwing rocks at their feet. You should never run from a coyote, which can move at 40-miles-per-hour. Instead, back up slowly and maintain your watch; don’t create a conflict where there is none. Likewise, if encountering a wolf, make yourself look larger and back away while keeping watch, but don’t stare or gaze in the eyes of a wolf; use noise makers and throw rocks. Never run. Wolves can be dangerous to people, but normally do not wish to be around humans. Given starvation and territorial incursions, attacks on humans can happen, especially if wolves and coyotes have become desensitized to human presence, “habituated.”

Coyote photo, long legs, pointed nose and ears; fluffy tail

Appearance. So how do you tell the difference between a coyote and a wolf? A coyote has a narrow snout and small nose pad, with pointed large ears relative to its head size; coyotes weigh up to 50 pounds. Their coat color is generally gray or reddish brown, often with a whitish throat, chest, or underside. The wolf has a broad snout and large nose pad, with rounded small ears relative to its head size; male wolves can weigh up to 180 pounds, and females up to 120 pounds. The wolf is commonly grizzled gray but can also be mostly black or white.

Wolf photo showing broad nose and nose pad

Howls of the Coyote and Wolf. It can be both a thrill and unnerving to hear the howls of coyotes and wolves while aboard your vessel or camping ashore. Both species use howling as a form of communication with other members of their pack and to establish territory. Howls are also used to locate a lost member, while barks or growls are often used to defend a den or make a kill. The howl of a coyote is entirely different from that of a wolf. A coyote’s voice is typically higher pitched, with shorter howls that rise and fall in pitch interspersed with yips. When injured, coyotes sound very much like a woman screaming. Voices of wolves on the other hand have a lower pitch, and the howling tends to be long and drawn-out, like that often heard in western movie sound tracks. Wolves do not yelp or continue yelping like coyotes. Wolves sometimes whimper in soft notes when greeting other wolves, or submitting to an alpha wolf.

Territory and Prey. Coyotes were originally native to the prairies of Western United States but have successfully adapted to most of North America’s entire continent. Their range includes significant portions of Canada and Alaska. Some species of coyotes are found in Mexico and Central America. Coyotes have also adapted to a wide range of environments, including both urban and rural areas near the presence of people. Coyotes prey on rabbits, mice and other small mammals and have been known to take household cats and small dogs in urban areas. While coyotes are mostly carnivores, they supplement their diet with grasses and fruits. Wolves on the other hand are solely meat-eaters and prey on large hoofed animals such as deer, moose, and elk. Sometimes wolves will prey on domesticated livestock. As a secondary food source, wolves will hunt small mammals and birds. Wolves historically ranged throughout North America, but are now only found in Canada and in some northern states of the United States.

Look for information and descriptions of more animals in the next edition of the Waggoner Cruising Guide in 2022.

Coyote Photo – Smithsonian
Wolf Photo – Wolf Sanctuary PA