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Wildlife Wonders

Today is Coyote Day!

We have a special bond with dogs and why not…they are faithful, fun and always happy to see us.  Their relatives in the canine family are the wolves, foxes and coyotes.  Coyote is a major mythological figure for most Native American tribes.  “In some Native American coyote myths, Coyote is a revered culture hero who creates, teaches, and helps humans; in others, he is a sort of antihero who demonstrates the dangers of negative behaviors like greed, recklessness, and arrogance; in still others, he is a comic trickster character, whose lack of wisdom gets him into trouble while his cleverness gets him back out. In some Native coyote stories, he is even some sort of combination of all three at once.”

Coyotes are smaller than wolves, better adapted for running and opportunistic omnivores, meaning they can survive on anything from grass to grasshoppers, mice and deer.  Seventy percent of their diet consists of small rodents.  They normally run 25-30 mph, but can run up to 40 mph.  They are also strong swimmers.

A coyote’s sense of hearing, sight and smell are well developed.    The average dogs sense of smell is 10,000 – 100,000 times better than ours. Dogs can recognize us by scent, find the smell of a missing person in his footprints left days before and smell a trillionth of a gram of TNT.  Coyotes and other canines will mark spots along trails and areas where they left food with urine.  This urine trail tells a story to other canines and marks their territory.  (That is why it is so difficult to get Sophie and Eliza to hike a trail when other dogs have left a story they want to read!)

100 years ago there were no coyotes in the east.  Western coyotes migrated east by way of Canada and into New York in the 1920’s, they moved into New Hampshire and Maine in the 30’s, Vermont in the 40’s and the first coyote reported in CT was in 1957.  Eastern coyotes are larger than western coyotes and recent research indicates that the coyote bred with the wolves in Canada, the result being that they can be up to 10 lbs. larger. 

Coyotes mate in January and February and pups are born April to mid-May.  There can be as many as 12 pups in a litter, with the average being 7.  Coyotes can also breed with dogs, coydogs, but often the off-spring don’t survive, because unlike male coyotes who remain to assist with feeding, protection and care of the pups, male dogs don’t remain with the female. Although capable of digging their own den, coyotes will often enlarge the abandoned burrows of other animals such as woodchucks and foxes. In urban areas they can also be found inhabiting culverts.   

How do you tell if it is a coyote and not a dog running across a field?  Coyotes are about the size of medium sized dog, 25-50 lbs. They look somewhat like a German shepherd, but they have a long bushy, black-tipped tail that hangs straight down.  They have yellow eyes and wide set painted ears, they are slender and their legs are thin.  They can be found in a variety of habitats and because they are so adaptable and are “opportunistic” feeders their numbers are increasing. They have been known to attack livestock and small pets.  For this reason it is important never to leave food or trash outside because it might attract them to your backyard.

You can see coyotes during the day, but they are “nocturnal” and more active at night.  Even if you don’t see them you may hear them.  They use a variety of “vocalizations” to communicate –

they can woof, growl, bark, or they may sing in a chorus.  Eastern coyotes tend to form packs more than western coyotes.  Pack consists of a mated pair and off-spring, sometimes it includes older siblings.  The family group breaks up in fall/early winter.

Another way to tell a coyote is by its “scat”.  When you are hiking you might find scat on a trail often on a rock.  Both might have hair and bone fragments in it. You would see larger bone fragments in  coyote scat.  The diameter of coyote scat is larger.  If the diameter is greater than 7/8″ it is most likely coyote scat.  Did you know in medicine and biology people study scat?  Scatology tells a wide range of information about an animal including its diet, health and diseases.  Sorry…I hope you already had your breakfast!

To end on a better note….

Coyote Song to Tune:  Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

Young coyote in the night

Wanders alone in the moonlight.

He lifts his head and howls to the moon,

We hear his sad and lonely tune.

And then to keep him company

Others join in harmony.

Woof woof, woof, woooooooo!

 – Earth Child, Sheehan and Waidner

Tracking and the Art of Seeing by Paul Rezendes

New England Wildlife Habitat , Natural History, and Distribution by Richard M. DeGraaf and Mariko Yamasaki

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