Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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  • The Coyote ....

    Mark Twain said that the Coyote "is so spiritless and cowardly that even when his exposed teeth are pretending a threat the rest of his face is apologizing for it.".
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The Controversial Coyote

The Controversial Coyote
By Holly Hadac, Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator
Wildlife Acres Rehabilitation
Oakland County, Michigan

Since 2008 I have become increasingly interested in coyotes.  I have traveled around the Northeast and Midwest part of the country to work with wildlife biologists, researchers, and other specialists, just to learn about the coyote.  I have done extensive research and have talked to coyote specialists all over the United States.  Through this, I have learned how misunderstood the coyote really is mostly due to media hype.  I have developed a presentation for the public to give them “just the facts”.  I have spoken at the Michigan Parks and Recreation Annual Conference, Wild Lapeer Days, was filmed for Bloomfield Community TV where they broadcast to nine communities, and have spoken to school children of all ages here and in Indiana, 4H groups, wildlife rehabilitators, and a few other places to boot.

The word coyote is Aztec and means “barking dog”.  The Aztec respected the coyote so much they called it “God’s dog”.  There is an Indian legend to this day that says that a gun that shoots at a coyote never shoots straight again.  Lewis and Clark shot at their first coyote and missed.  Maybe that was an omen of things to come!

When this country was settled, coyotes occupied only the open western plains areas of North America.  Coyotes followed the trail of dead horses as settlers pushed further westward.  We cut down the forests and drove out the wolves, which were the coyote’s main competitor.  Coyotes thrived on the open areas as they do today because their main diet is rabbits and rodents such as mice and voles.  We continue to this day to provide coyotes with their perfect habitat whenever we cut down woods.  Coyotes now occupy most of North America (except for some frigid areas of northern Canada) and all of Central America.  In April of 2008 a coyote was spotted at the Panama Canal – they were getting ready to colonize South America!  There have been some incidental occurrences of coyotes being released in the early part of the 1900’s in the eastern part of this country, but researchers do not count this as important in the coyotes’ spread.  They have done it on their own, with our help.  They bred with red wolves as they expanded eastward, causing the eastern coyotes to be bigger than the western coyotes.

Coyotes are in every major city.  There are 2,000 of them in Chicago.  As Los Angeles was built, the coyotes never moved out.  There are coyotes in Seattle and Denver.  A few years ago I had a puppy from Detroit that was on someone’s porch where kids were throwing rocks at it.  They are eating the rats, mice, and snakes we don’t want in our basements.  People are surprised when I tell them coyotes eat the same things that fox do.

Coyotes are timid animals.  Mark Twain said that the coyote “is so spiritless and cowardly, that even when his exposed teeth are pretending a threat the rest of his face is apologizing for it.”  Rick McAvinchey is a wildlife biologist now living in Oakland County.  For 10 years he darted wolves by helicopter in Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.  He also used foothold traps.  Occasionally he and his partner would trap a coyote.  These animals were fitted with radio collars then tracked.  One day he and his partner, a city girl who had never shot a gun before, came upon a coyote in one of their foot hold traps.  She insisted on shooting the dart gun from   about 20 feet away.  When she shot, the coyote fell over.  Rick thought that was odd as the anesthesia doesn’t take effect that quickly, but nonetheless they continued their research by measuring the animal and preparing to attach the radio collar.  During this, Rick looked up and saw the dart in the dirt past the animal.  She had missed, and the coyote was so scared by the repercussion from the dart gun and their presence that he fell over and was letting them handle him!  They “hurried up and anesthetized him” as Rick put it so that they could continue their work.  We usually don’t have many coyotes in rehab, but I have had puppies and mangy or injured adults.  Since 1996, I have never had a coyote that tried to bite me.  Compare that to almost every adult raccoon that has tried, and one succeeded!  Coyotes only run and hide.

Coyotes are nocturnal and crepuscular, meaning they hunt at night and at dawn and dusk.  We may see them more during the summer in the daylight due to less darkness hours.  They will eat anything and I mean anything:  meat, fruits, and vegetables, dead or alive.  They adjust their diet depending on their location and what is available that particular time of year.  It’s all about the food source for coyotes.  If you feed them, either intentionally or unintentionally, they will have a bigger litter that following spring.  It doesn’t take a couple of years for the female to get in better condition.  It is immediate.  Coyotes have 4-6 pups, usually born in April.  As with any wild species, the mortality rate is high with young.  Juveniles may stay to help raise the pups.  The juveniles will disperse in the late summer or early fall to find their own territory.  They may have a home range of 100 square miles looking for a vacancy to fill.  We create this vacancy every time we kill a coyote.  It takes three weeks for another one to come in. 
Dr. Numi Mitchell of Rhode Island (theconservationagency.org) got her funding for her coyote study from a wealthy friend whose dog was eaten by a coyote.  When she started tracking the coyotes, she found a neighbor was feeding them.  This drew the coyotes up to the homes where they encountered her friend’s dog.  Within two days of notifying this neighbor about the research, the coyote stopped coming to the woman’s house as she had stopped feeding them.  They are fast learners.  Dr. Jon Way has been studying coyotes in Massachusetts for about 15 years (easterncoyoteresearch.com).  He had one pack of four coyotes radio collared that were living in a cemetery divided by a two lane road.  The food source was so abundant they hardly left the cemetery.  Someone poisoned the pack.  The food source was so good that one pack moved into the cemetery on one side of the road and another pack moved into the cemetery on the other side of the road.  The person that wanted to rid the cemetery of coyotes ended up doubling the population of coyotes!

In the Chicago study, Dr. Stan Gehrt has determined there are 5-6 coyotes per 3-4 square miles.  He studied 1,499 droppings.  Less than 1% was pet remains, less than 2% was human garbage, and the rest was their normal diet of rabbits and rodents.   Dr. Way’s research in Massachusetts   has found there are 3-4 per 10 square miles.  These are family units.  Both areas are urban/suburban.  Researchers believe that in rural areas there may be just the mated pair in a much larger area.  Coyotes live at low densities as they are highly territorial.  They don’t kill trespassers as wolves do.  They just chase them to the border.
The people in southern California have gotten themselves in trouble by having neighborhood coyote feeding stations.  The coyotes lose their fear of people then look to people as a food source.  I have read every coyote incident in California since the 1970’s.  The researchers conclude that most of the problems have occurred because people were feeding the coyotes.  There is only one confirmed killing of a child by a coyote.  That happened in California in the 1980’s.  The people had been feeding the coyote.  They then left their three year old outside unattended with a chicken leg in its hand.  When the coyote wanted the chicken leg and the child cried, the coyote attacked.  One adult was killed by coyotes in Canada a few years ago.  I have detailed inside information as to the behavior of the coyotes prior to the officers shooting and killing them, and I can guarantee the coyotes were habituated to people.  There is a real problem in that area with lumberjacks taking coyote pups home and trying to raise them.  Then when they act like a coyote and not a dog they dump them outside.  Compare that to almost 5,000,000 dog bites each year in the United States, from which 16-20 people die according to the Center for Disease Control (cdc.gov).  But which one do we hear about in the media?    
Our federal government has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars since 1919 trying to eradicate the coyote using many different methods including poison.  They also invented a practice called “denning” where they pull out the puppies and bash their heads in.  Or, they pour gasoline down the den and set it on fire, among other horrible practices.  Coyotes responded by breeding younger and having bigger litters.  Studies show that in a persecuted population, almost all females breed and bear young.  Where they are left alone, such as in Yellowstone National Park where Dr. Bob Crabtree is the lead wildlife biologist, the females breed at two years of age and have smaller litters.  They aren’t going anywhere.  Now researchers are starting to realize that there is no such thing as coyote management.  They have concluded that instead we have to look at how we manage ourselves.    

How do we do this?  This means not feeding coyotes intentionally.  This means not feeding them unintentionally by allowing them access to garbage, compost piles, livestock, etc.  They even eat at our bird feeders by eating the bird seed then the animals that come in for the bird seed, especially at night.  They eat apples fallen from our trees and drink at our ponds and bird baths.  But mainly we can help by not putting pet food outside.  Those of us that live in the country don’t worry about our large dogs, but we watch our cats and small dogs.  The Humane Society of the United States (hsus.org) and other organizations provide extensive advice on not supporting coyotes and avoiding coyotes.  You can see that food has permeated every aspect of coyotes that I have written about here.    
In “Coyotes:  Predators and Survivors”, Charles L. Cadieux said, “It is my personal belief that when the last human has fallen, and the last skull lies on the irradiated earth, a coyote will come trotting out of some safe place.  Don’t ask me where he’ll come from; but I believe that he will survive as he has always survived.”


Study Results

  • Distribution and Habitat use in Detroit +

    Background, Objective, Results and Conclusions Read More
  • Preliminary Survey Feeding Habits SE MI +

    Background, Methods, Feeding Habits and Conclusion Read More
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