- Coyote Male-Female Pairs Bond for Life
- Cold, Gray-Green Eyes Glow Yellow at Night
- Coyotes are Smart and Fast, Can Run 30 mph
By Jill J. Easton
Originally these canines lived only in the northern and western United States. s the plains were settled and farmed, they gradually moved across the country following civilization, but it was not until the 1940’s that coyotes were regularly spotted in the south.
Today the coyote, Canis latrans, is found across America. They prefer brushy or wooded areas close to farming or livestock operations, but many live in and around our largest cities (More than 100 animals are radio collared in downtown Chicago.)
Colors vary, but generally they are reddish gray with a buff belly; at a distance, some people mistake a coyote for a big fox. They have cold, gray-green eyes that don’t seem to reflect light in the daytime, and glow yellow at night. Coyotes can cross-breed with domestic dogs, and the resulting offspring are frequently fertile.
Coyotes hunt in male-female pairs that bond for life. They can run faster than 30 miles per hour, have excellent vision, smell and hearing, and are one of the most adaptable animals on the planet. It takes four to eight square miles to support each coyote pair.
Packs are made up of the alpha pair, their young of the year, and sometimes a few offspring from the previous year’s litter. A successful foraging song dog contacts pack members when lots of food is located. On a windless night, coyote howls can be heard for several miles.
Whether you love them or hate them, short of a nuclear holocaust, coyotes are not going away. Only a disease epidemic or mass poisonings could decimate their numbers. However, when they become a problem they can be controlled.
“Prey controls the predator, and man can manipulate the system,” said Thurman Boothe, Arkansas Director of Wildlife Services for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). “The natural environment will fill a niche, but management can reduce the numbers.”
Some of the ways to control coyotes when populations get out of balance include hunting (either with dogs or by calling) and trapping.
When coyotes overpopulate an area, they sometimes lose their fear of people and can eventually become dangerous to pets and even people. If a coyote comes at you, wave your arms, yell and take stamping steps toward the animal. Do not turn your back or run. A coyote understands this as fear and will be much more likely to attack.
Back to the problems with coyotes killing calves in the Ozarks: the coyotes became so fearless they stopped running from people.
“Several summers ago I heard the most awful squalling from down the road,” said great-grandmother Alma Staggs. “A cow and calf had gotten on opposite sides of the fence, and when I came up several coyotes were near and locked in on the calf. I yelled, but the coyotes didn’t run. I got help real quick and we got the calf back on the right side of the fence. Those coyotes had bad intentions.”
The Staggs decided it was time to take care of the coyote problem. “First, we stopped burying dead cows in the pasture,” said Alma’s son Ron, who raises the cattle. “Then we started killing coyotes as we saw them.”
The Staggs removal effort was aided by local trappers who caught additional animals. In total, we trapped 35 coyotes on their land and on the adjoining national forest. The next year the coyotes that were trapped were healthier and didn’t have the mange that plagued many of the animals during the first trapping year.
Since then, the Staggs’ have had no problem with coyote predation on cattle, but each year trappers continue to take out a dozen-or-more coyotes and each year the coyotes look better and weigh more.
Lower fur prices mean coyote trapping is no longer an important control. Fox and coyote hunting with dogs and with calling devices removes a certain number of animals, but it is far from controlling their numbers.
“There is no question that the numbers have increased since the last predator control program in the late 1960’s,” said Booth. “They are too good at what they do. Bounties are not effective. Perhaps it’s time to put predator control (poisoning) on the table again. It would certainly do a lot to help wild turkey numbers bounce back.”
So there it is, an animal that is superbly equipped for what he does, smarter than we are in his environment and hard to control. With the tools that are currently available, we aren’t going to beat him. But on a cold, clear night, when you hear what sounds like a thousand coyotes lighting up the sunset with their song, maybe a part of you will be a little glad they are still out there.
Next Week: About Trapping Coyote