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 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.