Feb
20

About Coyotes

I was attending to the Kittitas County Field & Stream Club’s co-sponsored photo contest booth at the Central Washington Sportsmen Show in Yakima’s SunDome over the weekend. For some reason – maybe because most of the photos captured wild critters doing what they do – homey after homey wanted to talk coyotes.

Initially, the stories were about winter and snow and coyotes and their prey. It surprised me how similar were our coyote tales – and how vividly we each remembered a particular time of being entranced by the wild dogs’ behavior.

On a wintry afternoon a couple decades ago, I was driving the old Roslyn Cemetery-Ronald Road, in Upper Kittitas County, when I noticed three coyotes across a snow-covered pasture. Through my old spotting scope, I watched three of them “dancing” for field mice or voles. They were oblivious to my presence. Each caught at least one small rodent with that funny stalk in the snow. First, the little wild dog would freeze, ears cocked to the ground. It would tip-toe a few inches, leap stiff-legged into the air, pin its prey to the ground, bury its face in the foot-deep snow, snatch it, toss it overhead and catch it. That remains one of the most vivid half-hours of my outdoor life.

There seemed some rich satisfaction as each entrée was properly crunched and swallowed. The whole process seemed somehow joyful to me. Even though I’d studied the little dogs for decades, that was the first time I saw that amazing, captivating, dance performed in snow. It made perfect sense to me; coyote has ears to match most any animal, a nose almost as good as a bloodhound and outstanding eyesight.

I deeply appreciate the pleasures of watching winter coyotes. Still, spring has long been “coyote time” for me. Maybe it’s remembering how the new pups always seemed so awkward and confused on our Colorado foothills driveway, then instantly off to play with some pine squirrel or bird. Or maybe it is all those hours spent watching them overturn rocks and wood for grubs, or dig for rodents to feed their babies. Or maybe it was watching those wild dogs of spring performing that rodent dance in the yellow matted grass of early spring. That became my coyote time.

You are aware, I’d bet, that “playfulness” has long been used by animal behaviorists as a measure of intelligence. Coyotes have often been observed using a “tag‑team” technique for chasing antelope and hares (deer, too). If you watch them much, you=ll see them playing with each other, and any nearby critter. How can we doubt their intelligence?

Coyote lives on mice, snowshoe hares, birds, or rabbits in rural habitats; or trash and small pets in downtown Seattle, Spokane or LA. Fruit, berries, melons, tomatoes and carrots are also food. Among wildlife, there are specialists and there are generalists. Coyote is the quintessential generalist, thriving about anywhere, in every habitat type in our state. An opportunist – a generalist – coyote will eat just about anything.

In keeping with the guidelines of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association Science Education Committee, I must tell you that coyote may reach 40 pounds and 26 inches at the shoulder, and live for 10 years in the wild. A coyote has superb senses of hearing, smelling and seeing. Mostly nocturnal, he is often seen in full daylight, and his scientific name is Canis latrans.

The common name we use comes from the Aztec “coyotl,” or “barking dog.” To the Yakamas, he is “Spilyi.” This animal is woven into the tapestry of North American human history, traditions and teachings. According to numerous writings, and several of my Native American friends, coyote is often the trickster. His “medicine” makes us laugh, even as we are made the fool. He challenges us to learn, to grow, as he exemplifies our good and bad qualities. In many ways, he is us.

Between 1915 and 1947, in the United States, bounties were paid on 1,884,897 coyotes. In recent decades, federal agents protecting livestock have killed hundreds of thousands of western coyotes. We shoot coyotes. We poisoned them. We have buried, drowned and blown up coyotes. We’ve trapped them. Yet, today, coyote numbers have grown and their range and habitat have spread.

Funny, how connected we humans are with coyote. We hate him. We laugh at him. We stop, mesmerized, as he and his family holler at the moon and the sunrise. And we feed him our pets.

I love watching coyotes. I am delighted when I see pups playing and learning to be coyotes. I’ve also seen what a couple can do to a flock of new lambs. And I’ve long wanted a bedspread of full-winter coyote hides, with a pattern of red fox in the middle. I admit to mixed feelings.


Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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