By Kelly Vaughn / Photo by Bruce D. Taubert

Coyotes have a special place in Southwestern kitsch. They're often depicted on screen-printed souvenir-shop apparel, howling at a Swiss-cheese moon. Neither nightlights nor lampshades are immune to the appeal of a barking 'yote, and calendars and postcards are plastered with them. Coyotes, it seems, are all over the place, and that's appropriate, considering they're all over Arizona.

Although most coyotes prefer to travel and hunt alone or in pairs, you might see larger groups of them, particularly where food is abundant. It's not uncommon to find the wily mammals in urban areas, where refuse and fruit trees provide easy access to a quick snack. They're also known to sneak a drink from swimming pools and pets' water bowls, and they're notorious for seeking out a meal of unattended, unsuspecting dogs and cats. In the wild, coyotes subsist on small desert animals, snakes, lizards and wild fruit.

Among the shelters coyotes seek are storm drains and anything dark and cavernous, like abandoned buildings, dirt trenches or rocky, shaded outcroppings along urban trails.

You'll know a coyote when you see one. Most have gray coats that are painted with rusty highlights. Black patches on their tails distinguish them from an average dog,
and they range in weight from 20 to 30 pounds. They're fast, too — coyotes can run upward of 40 mph.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department classifies coyotes as "curious, clever and adaptable," all great attributes if you're not a pet named Fluffy, Fifi or Spot.

If you encounter a coyote near your home, Game and Fish recommends that you take action. Ignoring it could cause the animal to lose its natural fear of humans, making it more ornery and more likely to hunt near homes. Instead of doing nothing, the department suggests that you make loud noises, wave your hands or objects like sticks and brooms, throw small stones or cans, or spray the coyote with a hose.

If a particularly aggressive coyote refuses to take off, maintain eye contact and don't turn away. Some animals might view that as an opportunity to give chase, which is fine if you're feeling like a roadrunner, but if you'd like your coyotes on tchotchkes and not in your backyard, call animal control.