Can Coyotes Climb Trees? [Answered & Explained]

Photo: Kit Leong / Shutterstock

Coyotes, wolves, and dogs are all similar animals in appearance and behavior. Just like the dogs we keep as pets, coyotes like to run, and they will chase down their prey when they’re not scavenging.

But if the prey runs up into a tree, can a coyote follow after it?

Coyotes can’t climb trees because of their body structure. Their claws are not retractable and the bones in their feet and legs don’t allow them to wrap around tree trunks. The only canids that can climb trees are gray foxes and raccoon dogs.

Coyotes Are Part Of The Canidae Family

The Canidae family contains over 30 species of foxes, dogs, jackals, wolves, and coyotes. They are spread all over the world. There is at least one species present in the wild on every continent except Antarctica.

Though there’s a wide range of sizes among the canids, they all have a similar body structure. They typically have upright and pointed ears, long muzzles, and teeth that can crack bones and slice through the flesh of prey.

Their bodies tend to be lean and light. They have long, stiff legs meant for running after prey or trotting, and they have bushy tails. With the exception of gray wolves and raccoon dogs, canids do not have retractable claws.

Coyotes in particular range in weight from 20 to 50 lbs. (9 to 23 kg). They can grow between 32 and 37 inches long (31 to 94 cm) with their tails adding an additional 16 inches (about 41 cm).

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Their fur is often gray-brown to yellow-brown with a whiter underbelly. This coloring is common among coyotes, wolves, and dogs. This can sometimes make it difficult to tell the three apart.

In addition to being smaller than most wolves, you can also look at the tails. Wolves run with their tails straight out, while dogs run with them pointing up. Coyotes run with their tails down.

Canids Aren’t Built To Climb Trees

Coyotes can’t climb trees, just like most animals in the Canidae family. This is due to their claws and their bone structure.

First, coyotes have non-retractable claws. This means they’re out all the time and wear down faster than a cat’s claws, for example.

They aren’t very sharp and don’t have the same flexibility most cats use to help them climb trees.

However, these claws are part of what makes it easier for coyotes to run.

This is similar to cheetahs, who are the only big cats without fully retractable claws. They are sometimes referred to as having “dog-like” claws and are what help them as the fastest land animal in the world.

A coyote’s leg and wrist bones are also too stiff for climbing. In comparison, a key feature of the gray fox is its rotating wrists.

Gray foxes are one of the only canid species which can climb trees because of these wrists. They allow the fox to wrap its paws around a tree and use its semi-retractable claws to climb up.

In coyotes and most other canids, there is a fusion of the scaphoid and lunar bones in the wrist. This helps with running, but not climbing.

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The radius and ulna in their front legs lock together as well, making their legs stiffer than other climbing animals.

What Can Coyotes Do On The Ground?

Coyotes spend the majority of their time on the ground. They travel long distances across their territories, demonstrating their adaptable nature.

Coyotes live across the entirety of North America besides polar areas.

They also have a varied diet and can eat anything from insects to deer. They may not climb trees, but coyotes will still eat birds when they find them.

They’re known as opportunistic eaters, eating whatever is in abundance. They’re more than comfortable eating from garbage cans or even pet food that’s left outside.

Coyotes tend to stick to carrion for larger meals, but when they do hunt, they excel. They have strong senses of smell and sight, and when food is scarce, they’re likely to form hunting packs.

They’re also very fast, in part due to their long, lean legs. A coyote can run up to 40 miles an hour (64 km/h). The same legs that give them speed also help them when hunting.

Many canids, like the coyote and the red fox, use a method of hunting known as “mousing.”

This hunting technique involves lying in wait for prey that’s underground or beneath a layer of snow. The coyote will then rear up on its hind legs and slam down with its front paws.

This breaks through the ice and dirt and can either pin the prey or allow the coyote to burrow with its paws and nose. Finally, it catches the prey in its jaws full of sharp teeth.

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In Summary

Coyotes share many traits with the other members of the Canidae family. It can even be difficult to tell them apart from a common dog or even a wolf.

The main trait they share with most canids is their inability to climb trees. Because of their skeletal structure and their non-retractable claws, coyotes are unable to climb trees the way other animals, such as cats, do.

The only members of the Canidae family that can climb trees are the gray fox and the raccoon dog. However, the coyote is more than capable of taking care of itself on the ground, as it’s one of the most adaptable types of canid.

Read More About Coyotes:

  1. Do Coyotes Hibernate or Migrate In Winter?
  2. 14 Amazing Types of Coyotes
  3. Coyote Teeth
  4. Coyote Vs. Pitbull
  5. Coyote Vs. Jackal

James Ball

James has had a lifelong passion for animals and nature, tracing back to his childhood where he first began fostering intimate knowledge and connection with pet frogs and snakes. He has since honed this interest into a career as a trained Wildlife Biologist, specializing in Biogeography, sustainability and conservation. In addition to his professional pursuits, James maintains an active lifestyle, regularly indulging in outdoor activities such as hiking, and musical pursuits like playing piano and swimming.

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