Coyotes, Foxes, and Wolves

Oregon is home to many types of Canidae.

"Canidae" is a family of carnivorous mammals that includes dogs, wolves, jackals, and foxes.

Let's see how many you know.

Gray Wolf

Canis lupus Linnaeus

Behavior: Pack animals, more active at night, travel long distances with their family.

Body: Their coat color is typically a mix of gray and brown with buffy facial markings and undersides, but the color can vary from solid white to brown or black. They have long bushy tails that are often black-tipped.

Diet: Large hoofed mammals such as deer, elk, bison, and moose. They also hunt smaller mammals such as

beavers, rodents, and hares.

Lifespan: 7-8 years  *Endangered

Habitat: Large forests and mountainous terrain. (Canada, Alaska, the Great Lakes, northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest.)

Ecosystem role: They help keep deer and elk populations in check, which benefits plants and animal species. The carcasses of their prey also help to redistribute nutrients and provide food for other wildlife species, like grizzly bears and scavengers.

Photo Credit: Danny Green/NPL/Minden Pictures


Canis latrans

Behavior: Secretive, largely nocturnal, less likely to form packs.

Body: Grayish, buff, pinkish cinnamon, or brownish, or a combination of those colors, with a paler underbelly. The lips and eyelids are black, with black-tipped ears.

Diet: Primarily small mammals, but occasionally snakes and large insects, as well as leaves.

Lifespan: 10 years in the wild

Habitat: Grasslands to shrub-steppe to boreal forests and from remote wilderness to highly urbanized areas. (North and South America)

Ecosystem role: Coyotes help in keeping many small mammal populations in check, such as mice and rabbits.

Photo Credit: Mircea Costina/Alamy Stock Photo

Kit Fox

Vulpes velox

Behavior: Nocturnal, solo foragers, they live in underground burrows in pairs or small families.

Body: Yellowish to gray. They usually have a dark-colored back, light-colored undersides and inner ears, and distinct dark patches on each side of the nose and at the end of the tail, which makes up 40% of their body. They weight only 4 to 6 pounds.

Diet: Primarily carnivores, eating rodents and rabbits. If food is scarce, they will eat tomatoes, cactus fruits, and other fruits. They also will scavenge carrion and eat large insects, lizards, snakes, and ground-dwelling birds.

Life-span: 4-7 years in the wild, 14 in captivity.

Habitat: Arid regions, such as desert scrub, chaparral, and grasslands. (Southwestern USA and northern and central Mexico. Also the arid interior of Oregon.)

Ecosystem role: By controlling populations of small mammals, insects, birds, and reptiles. Their old dens are taken over by other animals, due to their search for food and a mate. As scavengers, they play a very important role in bio degradation.

Photo Credit: Keith Kohl, ODFW

Common Gray Fox 

Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Behavior: Secretive, mostly nocturnal, builds thick secluded dens, and can climb trees.

Body: Gray fur with black tips on its back and tail. It tends to have red fur on its sides and the sides of its neck. A grayish black "exclamation point" extends upward from the interior margin of each eye. The ears are cinnamon on the exterior and lines with long whitish hairs extending from the interior margins. The feet are grayish white.

Diet: Small mammals, including mice and voles. But also fruit, nuts, grains, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, moths, butterflies, carrion, and small amounts of herbage.

Lifespan: 16 years in the wild

Habitat: Heavily wooded swamps and rough hilly terrain.

(Most of the US from southern Canada to northern Venezuela and Colombia, excluding the northern plains and Rockies.)

Ecosystem role: Gray foxes are important predators to their ecosystems because they help to control the numbers of prey species like rodents and insects.

Photo Credit: Danny Green/NPL/Minden Pictures Wild

Red Fox

Vulpes vulpes

Behavior: Nocturnal, cunning, solo hunters, living in small families in permanent dens.

Body: The red fox has a beautiful orange-red coat, black feet, and black-tipped ears. The belly is usually white or light grey, the muzzle is narrow and pointed, and the ears are pointed.

Diet: It is an opportunistic carnivore, eating what is available including small mammals, birds and their eggs, reptiles, amphibians, fruit and some insects.

Lifespan: 2 to 4 years in the wild.

Habitat: Forests, grasslands, mountains, and deserts. They also adapt well to human environments such as farms, suburban areas, and even large communities. (The entire Northern Hemisphere from the Arctic Circle to North Africa, North America and Eurasia.)

Ecosystem role: Red foxes help to control populations of their prey animals, such as rodents and rabbits. They also may disperse seeds by eating fruit.

Photo Credit: Gary Bendig

Take a look at the drawings below. 

Canine prints are distinctive -- the overall shape is oval with four twos and a heel pad that is concave at the bottom. Because of the arrangement of the toes and pad, you can draw an "X" through the canine print. When comparing front and rear tracks, the fore prints of all members of the dog family are significantly larger than the hind print.

Wild animals like wolves and coyotes tend to walk in a straight line to conserve energy, while dogs zig-zag and circle around quite a bit when they are walking. Domestic dogs also tend to splay their toes, producing a track with toes and nails that are pointing outward. Another difference is the nails -- dog nails are thick and blunt while wild canines leave thin and sharp nail prints.

Below are the prints of a dog, coyote, wolf, and fox. Take what you've learned from the reference picture and test your understanding. Which prints belong to whom?

Discussion Questions:

  • Which animals are endangered? How can we help to preserve this species?

  • What new fact were you surprised by? Why?

  • Which animals have you seen in person before? Did their behavior match what is written here?

  • Which animals interests you most?  Why?

Extension Activities:

  1. Choose an animal from this list to research more. How do they make their homes? Do they mate for life? Why are they endangered? etc.

  2. Choose two (or three!) animals from this list and combine them. Create a drawing of your new animal. Give your new species a name. Where does it live? What does it eat? What are its habits?

  3. Pick an endangered animal and search for organizations that support them. Why is it so important that this species be preserved? How could you get involved and help out?

Quiz Answers: 

1. Wolf  2. Coyote  3. Fox  4. Dog

Sources: The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, The National Wildlife Federation, Defenders of Wildlife, Animal Ark, Animalia, Oregon Wild, Green Belly, Oregon Conservation Strategy, and The Wildlife Learning Center