Coyote in the field

I have a habit of looking out the window a lot during the day, wondering what I’m missing while I’m inside. This morning, I happened to look out and saw a dog-like form in my neighbor’s field. Even though it was a football field away, the animal’s size and gray/tan coloring told me it was an Eastern Coyote. I grabbed the binoculars and sure enough, it was a large coyote. Extremely wary, coyotes don’t stay in one place for long. By the time I found my camera, he had moved behind a hill and out of sight.

I hurriedly put on my coat and went out to have a look, but by the time I got to where I had seen him, he was gone. Our neighbor’s farm is 300 acres of woods and fields, with lots of places where a coyote could hide or raise a family. Coyote breeding season is underway, so if he has a mate and pups nearby, I might get to see him again.

Coyotes move through our area, but haven't caused any problems. Photo by US Fish and Widlife

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Coyotes make their dens in a burrow under rocks, in hollow tree trunks, and under piles of brush. If undisturbed, they will repair and use the same den in successive years. Females produce a litter of three to 12 pups which are born between March and May. The male and female both engage in hunting rabbits, mice, wild turkeys, deer, rodents, and other food sources.

The pups begin to venture outside the den at three to four weeks of age. (To see pups emerging from their den for the first time, watch this wonderful video called “Coyote Cubs Singing” produced by BBC Worldwide.) Young coyotes will leave their parents care in the fall following their birth. If food is abundant, the pups will stay and hunt in the family pack until the start of the next breeding season. If food is scarce, they will leave to find their own hunting territory. Overall prey abundance and diversity dictates the total number of coyotes that can thrive in a given area. (source: Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.)

Historically, the coyote was commonly found in the Great Plains of western and mid-western states, but during the last 50 years has expanded its range eastward. Two factors that contributed to the eastern expansion were the elimination of its ancient foe, the timber wolf, and the establishment of the deer herd in the East as a plentiful food base. The coyote is an adaptable and resourceful predator and despite efforts to reduce their numbers in many places, there may be more coyotes today than in colonial times.

In the Blue Ridge, coyote populations are increasing, largely due to abundant small prey and deer populations. These cagey predators tend to steer clear of humans, but will take livestock such as chickens, sheep, pigs, or domestic animals if the opportunity presents itself. We do have to be concerned about our chickens and I worry about Callie, a Shih Tzu-mix of about 20 pounds, so we keep a close eye on her when she’s out. Supposedly, they do not particularly target livestock or domestic animals, but if the pickins’ are easy….

In the meantime, I’ll keep looking out the window.

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34 thoughts on “Coyote in the field

  1. Yes, be careful of your pets. We have many coyote here and many missing neighborhood cats! I spied a beautiful coyote in our yard this past fall and managed to get a photo however it was a bit blurry ):

    • I’m not too worried because wild food for the coyote is abundant. Still, I’m not taking any chances. We don’t have cats, but I’m sure the chickens are tempting…

  2. Hi, Jo Ann : we have only heard a coyote twice since we moved here and are not sure where he/she is located. Haven’t heard a thing all winter, so we’ll await what Spring brings! Still lots of snow on the ground and probably a bit more to come! Our annual St. Patrick’s Day “Burnin’ o’ our Greens” is scheduled for March 16th – wish you could join us! Much love, Margie and Dan

    • Hey, Margie. Wish we could be there for the big day, too! We’ll be thinking of you guys on St. Patty’s Day. A big hi to Dan. xoxo

  3. We live in a fairly rural area and have heard coyotes frequently, but have never seen them. We do have a fox family that raises their kits on our property every year (we have 5 acres and most of the neighbors have large wooded lots too) and occasionally see them.

    • I saw a fox a few days ago here, but I doubt it will stay and raise a family with a coyote in the vicinity – the two don’t mix.

  4. I find myself doing the same thing — looking out the window for the red fox I know lives somewhere around here. I love hearing a coyote chorus, but there aren’t many coyotes in the burbs.

    • My husband showed me a picture on the Internet of a coyote snooping around the main gate of Wrigley Field in Chicago! They have become so adept at living around people that they can, and do, live almost everywhere. They are remarkable.

      • Hi again, Sorry (I think this is really stupid!) but I just noticed a little notice that says the video is only available in Canada…

        • Yeah, I saw that, Deb, but I did read the background to the video and the comments. One thing I’ll try to do is to post a notice about these kinds of shows if I find out about them in advance.

          On Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 4:23 PM, Wood and Field

        • I’ll be sure to let you know if anything similar comes up in the future. Not sure when (or if) you’ll be able to access the piece on the CBC directly or not; but I found this article on Susan Fleming, the documentary’s maker: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/coywolf-susan-fleming-film_n_2567531.html. Oh, and I’ve also sent an email to the good folks at The Nature of Things to enquire about viewing availability for those who aren’t in Canada; )

  5. Hi Jo Ann, My mother’s neighbours have had coyotes bold enough to come right into their barnyard and take a calf right from its mother’s side… Yesterday was the first anniversary of the disappearance and assumed death of our kitten who’d been allowed to go out only a couple of hours after we’d heard the coyotes singing right next door. (We never found any sign of him):

    • Yeah, I read some chilling stuff researching this post. They come into fenced yards after pets and even attacked a dog on a leash with the owner standing right there – pretty brazen! Sorry about your kitty. 😦

    • Isn’t it amazing that these large predators can exist and even thrive so close to people? I don’t mind having coyotes around as long as they leave our dogs and chickens alone! I think food is abundant now, so hopefully, we won’t have any problems and can enjoy seeing them. I hope I’m not being naive.

      On Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 8:49 AM, Wood and Field

  6. When we walk our dogs early in the morning we often run into coyotes here. My young dog is prone to chasing them not realizing they are luring her. Three had her surrounded a couple of weeks ago. We have to watch out for her. Loved the post!

    • Hi Alison. I have a lot of respect for coyotes from all that I’ve read about them. I saw a chilling video once of a dog being lured off by a coyote. Luckily, the guy saw what was happening and called his dog back. So far, we’ve not had one come close to the house (during the day), but the last pee outing of the evening for the dogs, I keep our little dog on a long leash (actually a horse longe line).

  7. Interesting post! I remember first learning about the eastern coyote phenomena from Barbara Kingsolver’s fantastic book Prodigal Summer. Being from the west, I had just assumed coyotes were native everywhere. But the concept of Top Predators, and what happens when we try to eliminate them from the ecosystem is really fascinating. —Hope your own beloved pets stay safe though! 🙂

  8. Sadly, there are several counties in Virginia that have a bounty on coyotes despite the fact that it has been proven that such measures don’t work; the coyotes just move on to safer places. Here in the Blue Ridge, they can always retreat to higher elevations where there are less people, but deer are abundant in the lower areas, so unless pressed, they’re going to be around.

    • Unfortunately, when humans interfere, we usually end up making things worse, ’cause Nature abhors an imbalance. It seems to me that the only way to get these guys back under control is to first push back – reintroduce ourselves as a threat to them – NOT just an easy source of food; second, where possible reintroduce the wolf populations as direct competition to keep them in proper balance (God help us if they’re cross-breeding with the wolf populations already) and third, reduce their available food supply by eating more of it ourselves…
      (And yes, I know this kind of thinking is ‘way outside the box for most people; so not asking much, right?);

  9. Thank you for all the interesting facts about the coyote. I’ve seen evidence of them here (scat on the trails), and hear them occasionally, but have never seen one. When my husband and I were hiking in Nova Scotia, I worried about black bears and moose. Then we had a talk with one of the rangers who said we didn’t need to worry about bears or moose as much as we needed to worry about coyotes. They had a couple incidents of lone hikers being attacked by a pack of coyotes.

    • I learned enough in researching material for this post to be very cautious with these smart and opportunistic predators. From now on, even though it imposes some constraints on me, I will only go on hikes with my husband or someone else and keep the dogs leashed wherever possible.

      On Mon, Mar 4, 2013 at 1:06 PM, Wood and Field

  10. Beautiful post, Jo Ann. There have been coyotes reported occasionally along the lakefront in Chicago, of all places, but I have seen them more commonly out in the wide open spaces of places like Fermilab. They always disappear quickly upon sight. But I did have a neighbor who lost his very small dog to a coyote when he was walking the dog in a nearby preserve. I don’t think we realize how much stress loss of habitat places on predators that are so vital to the balance of ecosystems.

  11. In reading about coyotes someone used the phrase “shifting forms” to describe how coyotes suddenly disappear into the shadows; one minute they’re there and the next minute, they’re gone. Part of the coyote problem is that their populations are increasing, even in places where there is a bounty on wolves. They are extremely adaptable and opportunistic, able to thrive in areas where people don’t even realize they are there.

  12. Coyotes, like foxes, fascinate me but it’s good that you are keeping your chickens locked up! We always had chickens growing up and I remember being devastated when a fox got to them. It must be incredible to have all that beautiful (and sometimes a little dangerous!) wildlife right there on your doorstep.

    • I read that if you have coyotes, you probably don’t have foxes, mostly because they compete for some of the same prey; also coyotes will sometimes kill fox and take over their den. We have both. Co-existing with large predators means we have to be very protective and defend our “territory” against them.

      On Fri, Mar 8, 2013 at 7:17 AM, Wood and Field

    • They are virtually everywhere – people in the cities either don’t see them because they forage at night or think they are seeing a dog. We need lots of education on coexisting with them. They are like crows: if they are shot at, they move to another area.

  13. Hi Jo-Ann:

    I keep hoping that the old coyote den behind my place here will be re-occupied but it is still vacant. I put up remote cameras at some likely spots and have seen a small, long-legged coyote in the area…maybe another den nearby. I hear them calling at night – and I keep my dog inside at night. He sometimes howls along with them. Apparently there are timber wolves moving back into the area. I would love to see one of them too –

    • I also have a remote camera and plan to put it up soon as this is the time of year that bears come out of their dens. Might also have a coyote wander through the area as well. We used to have bobcats, but I think the coyotes ran them off.

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