Just days ago an alert came over our neighborhood website advising people to accompany their pets when outside as the coyotes are looking for a warm meal. Fortunately, in the original text and subsequent replies, that was all I read. Thankfully, there was no mention of killing this creation of nature for the drives acquired through biology that are interwoven with a healthy ecosystem. It took eleven days and the first post of killing has just appeared.
There are many thoughts as to how life has evolved on Earth, we all have our personal beliefs. I, after years of thought and study, have decided not to question the origin of life but value it. I feel very strongly that the creator, whomever or whatever it is, would not create a life it did not value. I have therefore decided that I will live my life respecting all living and non-living components of the Earth. Please note I said respecting….not liking. I do wonder about the mosquito or snakes but it is not up to me to make a value judgement.
After making this decision life has been easier and harder to live. It was hard when I saw a neighbor down state had hanged a coyote in the tree in front of his suburban home….proud of his kill. I called the DNR and was told it was not against the law. Sometime later as I walked along a city path I found the milkweed I had been watching and checking for caterpillars hacked to the ground. I called the Parks Department, they listened as I explained the value of milkweed. The head of the maintenance department sent his workers out with pictures of milkweed so it would not be mowed down again. Being informed, in my opinion, is very important when sharing space with other living creatures ourselves included. I have never really thought about coyotes or do I know much about them. It is time to get to know my neighbor.
Are there coyotes living along side me. Yes! I have never seen one but suspect I have heard one, seen their tracks, and realized it was coyotes that feasted on and finally removed the deer carcass resting in my neighbors yard. I am fascinated by their ability to allude me.
So what is a coyote? Simply put a coyote is a non-domesticated dog. Prairie wolf, brush wolf, cased wolf, little wolf and American jackal are a few names assigned to this animal. Although closely related to the wolf the coyote is smaller, has larger ears, a coat of red, white, grey, and brown and behaves more like a fox than a wolf. Their weight is anywhere from 18-44 lbs with a nose to tail length between 3ft 3ins and 4 ft 5 ins, the tail measuring 16 inches.
The coyote’s range extends from Alaska east to New England and as far south as Panama. Their territory, marked with urine, extends between 10 and 12 square miles. Historically the coyote’s habitat has been deserts, mountains and open plains, however the modern coyote has also adapted its breeding habits, diet, and social life to inhabit urban and suburban areas. This ability to adapt along with its biological traits and social structure are the prime reasons for the coyote’s success.
Physically the coyote is a survival machine. They can run forty miles an hour, jump 8 foot fences and are good swimmers. Their ears are large, very sensitive and serve a dual purpose. The coyote’s acute auditory abilities allow it to locate the smallest of prey and avoid danger. The movement and position of the ears identifies its rank. As with all members of the dog family the coyote has a highly developed sense of smell. This allows the animal to locate prey, carrion, danger and the markers left by other coyotes. Digitigrade or walking on its toes allows the coyote to be swift and silent. By nature the coyote is very sensitive and rarely seen.
The social structure of the coyote varies. They may live alone, in pairs or in a pack. Hunting will be done day or night alone or in a pack. Pack hunting is required when trying to bring down a large animal such as a deer. Tracking large animals and striking when the prey is exhausted is their usual MO. Being opportunistic predators they will eat what is in an area. This would include: meat and fish fresh or spoiled, mice, rats, rabbits, ground squirrels, insects and fruits such as melons, and berries. Urban and suburban coyotes will eat garbage and dog food. Coyotes have been observed killing sheep and poultry, giving them a bad reputation, but are more attracted to the foods listed above. Like dogs, the coyote will cache excess food.
Water or liquid nourishment is predominately derived from the foods the coyote eats. They have however been known to dig holes to find water, find standing water or in urban or suburban areas drink from pools, ponds and dog dishes.
One of my favorite experiences occurred in Jackson Hole, Wyoming as I attended my brother-in-laws wedding. The ceremony was held at a private home surrounded by grassland and mountains, truly a site to behold. As I waited I noticed a coyote off in the distance ‘mousing’ or leaping in the air and diving nose first into the grass. It was a true ballet for the observer….not so much for the mouse. The coyote did not seem interested in us as it trotted off with its meal not to be seen again.
Vocalizations are one of the traits coyotes are best known for. The howl is informing other coyotes that I am here and this is my territory….females welcome. The howl does not appear to communicate aggression. In a small group with pups the yelp can be either a sign of criticism or celebration…I guess you have to be there. A coyote protecting a den or kill will bark. When a coyote wants to call its pups without making noise it will huff. An aggressive coyote will bark, lower its head, extend and bristle its tale and show its teeth. Another coyote is more likely to see this behavior than you are.
Mating season for the coyote is January with pups appearing in April or May. Born blind the pups stay with the female in a den she prepared months earlier. The pups will nurse for five or six weeks and eat solid food the male brings in three weeks. By ten weeks the pups will emerge from the den to go on family hunts. Coyotes can mate with wolves (Coy-wolf) and dogs (Coy-dog). It is my understanding that there is a Netflix program concerning the coy-wolf: Nature:Meet the Coy-wolf 2014. I need to watch this.
Over time coyotes have been considered a nuisance, a mistaken human value judgement in my opinion. The attempts to exterminate them have resulted in an animal alert and wary. Most of the time coyotes want to avoid humans. These animals become dangerous when they associate food with humans. So, what do we do if we see a coyote too close for comfort?
“If people feed coyotes or if there is a food source associated with humans the coyotes will become less fearful of people and more attacks will occur. So in order to reduce or eliminate attacks it is VERY important that we condition the coyotes to fear people. People can help condition coyotes by doing the following:
- NEVER feed coyotes
- Remove coyote food sources such as trash, fruit and pet food from the environment.
- Keeping small pets inside from dusk to dawn or in safe enclosures
- Never leave young children unattended in yards or parks.
- Harass coyotes with loud noises, clapping hands, yelling, throwing rocks at them and waving our arms to create fear
- Call the local department of Fish and Game or local law enforcement agency if coyotes attack humans, become too aggressive by approaching humans and by showing lack of fear of humans or if they attack small pets.”
How do we protect our pets?
“A: There are a number of things you can do to prevent your small pet (cat or dog) from being attacked by a coyote.
- Keep small pets (cats, small dogs and other pets) indoors from dusk until dawn. Or keep pets in a coyote-proof yard, area or cage from dusk until dawn.
- Install a fence or convert your fence to prevent coyotes from entering your yard.
- Feed your pets indoors. Or if you feed them outdoors do so during the day and never leave pet food out at night.
- Make sure trash is not left outside in bags and that all trash cans have secure lids with locking mechanisms. Secure the cans to a fence or wall with rope or elastic cord so the trash cannot be tipped over.
- Install motion sensitive lights in your back yard and around your house.
- Don’t leave fruit, berries or compost on the ground or uncovered.
- Don’t overflow bird feeders. Hang them high or in areas that are not accessible to coyotes.
- NEVER feed coyotes.
- You can install one or more 7 foot or higher posts with a platform at the top for cats to use as an escape from coyotes. The posts need to be made of a material that the cats can climb. When being chased by a predator a cat can climb the post and sit on the platform until it is safe to descend and the coyote is gone.
- Clear brush and vegetation to remove habitat for small animals that may attract coyotes and to remove areas where coyotes can hide while stalking their prey.
- Always keep pets on a leash when walking in parks, forest areas or in residential areas. “
I do believe with this knowledge I can live along side the coyote. The vast majority of the advice will serve to keep all unwanted guests away including humans who are after your lawn furniture! The vast majority of time killing wildlife is unnecessary. Coyotes don’t think about us (I feel many humans erroneously feel they are focal point of many animals) they want to avoid us at all costs….we are unpleasant. I am concerned that misinformation and or lack of knowledge can create an hysteria or panic (I may be witnessing that at the present time). Please don’t waste hours of you life in fear be proactive. Refer to some of the advice given above and both you and the coyote will be happy. My favorite: motion lights and of course, no food or open compost. We must be wise: we are part of the environment, the environment was not created for us to alter.