A pair of eyes gaze across the open terrain. The land is lit with the cool ambient light of the hour before dawn. Within their home, the humans are stirring. Soon they will be outside with the strengthening light. The coyote does not mind revealing its presence, but is wise enough to remain out of sight. It watches the humans and knows their methods and habits. It is time to forage further from the house. The watcher lopes away.
What's in a Name?
We raise sheep. We've named our farm after a predator that can cause sheep farmers considerable distress. Why is this?
Well, they are a distinctive feature of the land on which our farm is situated. They are fascinating creatures in their own right. We have learned to live with them so far. And we have a somewhat offbeat sense of humour. Read on, and it will make a bit more sense.
Also known as the prairie wolf, this adaptable creature has actually expanded its range during the extensive human settlement of the last few centuries. Originating in the southwestern portions of North America, the coyote now exists in all terrain types from the tropics to the tundra. Coyotes have been found from Panama to Alaska and from coast to coast, even in Florida. To date, it has not been seen in Newfoundland or northern Quebec. Coyotes still prefer open terrain if given a choice. It is a separate species from the wolf, although there can be cross-breeds between coyotes and wolves, as well as coyotes and dogs.
Coyotes are anywhere between 15 to 45 pounds in weight and are usually a mixture of brown, grey, and reddish-brown in colour. Eyes are yellow. Muzzles are pointed. Ears are pointed and held upright. Legs are long and they have bushy tails. Weights will be higher as one moves further north and also in more mountainous terrain. A coyote can run in short bursts at close to 40 miles per hour, and can lope at a good clip for hours. Their most distinctive trait is their yipping, barking and howling, which sounds quite different than the vocalizations of either wolf or dog.
The lifespan of a coyote can reach 10 to 15 years, although mortality can be very high amongst the young. Less than half survive to adulthood. Their few predators include wolves, bears, mountain lions and humans. Breeding takes place in January or February with the pups being born about 60 days later. A litter can range from 3 to 15 pups, with the average being about six. The coyote den is usually only used during the raising of the pups.
Coyotes are opportunistic carnivores. Their diet usually consists of about 90% animal matter. They are excellent scavengers and will eat whatever is on hand, including small mammals, insects, carrion, fruit, fish and reptiles. Common food includes rodents, rabbits, birds, berries, insects and carrion.
The coyote is extremely intelligent, adaptable and resourceful. They are also curious and playful although wary of humans, and with good reason. Attempts to eradicate the coyote have often bred more cunning coyotes. Coyotes are often seen alone. When not raising pups, coyotes tend to be solitary animals. In areas where their prey is larger, coyotes band together in hunting packs -- another recent adaptation. Even when so grouped, coyotes do not have the same rigid pack hierarchy that wolves do. No matter how they hunt, coyotes can be active at any time of the day or night. Near human habitations, coyotes have learned to keep a low profile during the day. Their most active times are often around dawn and dusk.
Listen for them.
Copyright © 2000-2005 by Craig Routledge.
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