Coyotes I Have Known

January 12, 2009

Margaret Brand’s “Coyote population still on the rise” in the January 8 edition of The Review-Mirror quotes Scott Smithers of the Ministry of Natural Resources:  “People need to take the best measures to protect their property.”  Unfortunately the second half of the article was lost in my edition of the paper, so I don’t know how it ends.  I hope the conclusion will appear in the next issue as a correction, because a balanced approach to coyote management is very important.

My parents raised sheep on Young’s Hill for fifteen years and the only ewe they ever lost they blamed on Sally, the border collie.  She had a temper.  Mind you, Dad kept the sheep in the barn at night, and he was careful.  During that time he shot two coyotes which looked as though they might cause trouble, but that was it.

All through my childhood my dad kept Walker foxhounds and hunted wolves and foxes for sport and furs.  In later years, though, Mom admitted that he used to sneak out to watch the young foxes playing outside their den under the back barn.

A few years later I came under the spell of the resident bush wolf who owned our woodlot.  She was a beautiful animal.  While he reviled the old coyote near Elgin who was stealing his ducks, Dr. Bill Barrett became quite fond of the one on Young’s Hill while taking the hay off our fields.  “The Coyote” seemed to enjoy the company of large machines, and would come out each day, take up a secure vantage point, and watch the show.  Bill speculated, “She must have some dog in her, because she likes humans too much to be all coyote.”

She lived for six years in our woodlot, occasionally raised a pup as a single mother (strong evidence that she was a hybrid:  coyotes raise their young as a couple), and defended her territory as well as she could against intruders.  I watched from the back field one day as she dashed from one side of the barn to the other to peek at the strangers who had descended from a car at the house.

Logger Ken Carson and his assistant also became very fond of The Coyote as she kept their skidder company during his work in the woodlot in 2006.  Then to their dismay, one night she died under their logging truck.

Always troubled by mange, she had lost a lot of hair off her right hip, and a January cold snap was too much.  Her tracks led from a patch of thick cover across an open field and directly to the truck.

We missed her presence in the woodlot.  During her life she eliminated groundhogs from the property and kept other rodents and deer honest, as well.

Since her passing we’ve had a series of critters try to fill her role.  The most impressive was a large pup I first encountered one day when driving across a field on a lawn mower.  Sound sleeper, that guy.  I nearly drove over him before he abruptly sprang up in my path, staggered a few steps to one side, yawned mightily, then scuttled off to the woods and cover.  When I eventually came upon his bed smack in the middle, I could see why he kept trying to return as I mowed:  he had all his toys around the spot of matted grass he called his own.  There was a large leg bone from a cow, a few other chunks of bone, and a plastic chew toy which could only have been purloined from some dog’s play area.

By fall he had grown huge.  When our neighbour Paul Hargreaves saw him  one day he exclaimed, “That’s no coyote, that’s a bush wolf.  He’s plenty large enough to bring down a deer by himself.  That’s why there are no deer on the property.”

Last winter while snowshoeing we came upon a large trench where he and his mate had obviously spent some time buried in a snowbank.  Next circuit of the woods we saw two sets of fresh tracks heading east along the field, and that was the last we saw of him.  This year in his absence a buck tore some of my prized butternut saplings limb for limb.

The current occupant of the post of top predator at the farm is definitely a coyote, and a particularly scraggly one, at that.  I wrote at Thanksgiving about her antics in our orchard, so I won’t go into that here.  I must emphasize, though, that I often follow her tracks around the property, and she seldom goes far without stopping to dig out a vole or two.

If there were more coyotes in the woodlot the situation would be very different, and Dad’s rifle would come off the rack.  But I see only benefit in a single animal who shows restraint in her dealings with my mother’s cat and the humans on the property.

I hope nobody decides to eradicate the coyote population in the area. Well-established coyotes know the rules and contribute mightily to rodent control.  Harmful individuals need to be identified and shot, but I heard a rumour last year of an underground bounty program sponsored by deer hunters, and that can’t be good.


One Response to “Coyotes I Have Known”

  1. In the more northerly reaches of the lower 48 coyotes have been found to bear a fair number of wolf genes. Some people speculate that this is why they’re larger than coyotes in southerly parts of the continent.

    Coyotes adapt well to human habitation, so it’s not surprising that The Coyote would take up residence near the buildings of your farm. But the behavior you describe sure sounds like that critter had a little infusion of dawg in her. If she bred more than once a year, she undoubtedly was a hybrid.

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