Coyote tracks are very common where I live. So are dog tracks, red and grey fox, bobcat and others that could be confused with coyote. Learning the difference between them is an important basic distinction of wildlife tracking.
Above are both the front and hind track of a coyote in soft mud. The depth and softness of the substrate will demand close scrutiny. Here are some things to look for.
Four toes– Raccoons and fisher have 5. Look hard because one of them is smaller and sometimes does not show clearly in the fisher. All canines and felines have 4. Some domestic animals may have extras which usually look weird and stand out.
Symmetry– Obvious symmetry in both front and hind tracks. Felines have asymmetrical feet, most evident in the fronts. Domestic dogs breeding has led to crooked toes and claws in most individuals.
Negative space– I went to art school and was trained to view negative space as just as important as the “subject”. If the subject is the pads, pay equal attention to the space in between them. In canines, coyotes in particular, one can draw an X with its center in the middle of the track and it will not encounter any pads. The asymmetry of feline tracks means this is not possible. This phenomenon will also sometimes create a pyramid of material in the center of the track. That is present here in these pictures.
Claws– on any but the thinnest substrate the coyote’s claws will leave marks. They are small, narrow, strait, pointed and face strait ahead. The claws of the outer toes often are so close to the inner toes they are barely visible and the inner toes claws are close together and parallel. In these images the depth of the mud caused them to look larger and stick out more than usual especially on the front foot. This can be tricky and takes looking at many tracks to be comfortable with.
“Heel Pad”– It isn’t actually the heel, its the metacarpal pad on the front and metatarsal pad on the hind but, who’s counting. On coyotes the front heel pad is a wedge shaped trapezoid narrower to the front. The hind feet often show just a round dimple in the earth. Again in this example the depth of mud distorts some portions and shows more detail in others. The outer 2 toes of the front foot for example have pinched the mud up around the front edge of the heel pad.
Clarity– Red fox have very furry feet, the inside edges of the toe and heel pad are often indistinct. Coyote, bobcat and grey fox have very distinct pads so if the substrate is capable of capturing distinct edges and they are not visible consider red fox.
Size– Coyotes front feet are always larger than their hinds. Domestic dogs are not always so, they may be the same or the rears could be larger. There are parameters for coyote track size, several good books list these things. I find measuring to be misleading because of the considerable overlap with other animals and the effect of mud and snow on the size of the track. If one looks hard and often, the need for a ruler should disappear. I did use one here to give you some idea of scale and so I can try to keep track of individual animals in my area. Sharing photos does create a need for a scale such as a ruler.
Below are close ups of the individual tracks.
There are still more details to identifying coyote tracks which I will omit here for the sake of sanity. Looking at tracks, drawing them, looking at animal’s feet, learning their habits and way of life are what it takes to go deeper into wildlife tracking. The animal who made these tracks is my neighbor, I have known its family for generations, seen its parents in the woods, my family has listened to its family howl at night. Getting to know the wildlife around you is another way to go deeper.