A Bestiary: Part Four – Eastern Coyote

 Our Eastern coyote Canis latrans var., is a good bit larger than its cousins out west. This handsome beast has wolf Canis lupus lycaon, genes – 300,000 years old at least – meandering in its warm blood mix. Some scientists believe that the endangered red wolf Canis rufus, met up with a coyote moving east, where others state that the Eastern wolf is the sire of the coy-wolf.

To make things more confusing the red wolf is thought to be part coyote and part eastern wolf.

Whatever the name or combination, wolves have been brutally attacked and pushed to the edge of extinction numerous times and now by gray wolves being removed from the endangered list and states allowing hunting slaughter from planes . . .  they are in great danger.  Wolves were in trouble even before, then governor, Pallin took aim . . . we all need to remain vigilant in calling out for their protection.

There is much myth and hatred revolving around and towards the stealthy wolf.

Steal thy sheep they may well do . . . but wouldn’t you too, take one or two . . . if you were a wolf? Actually, there are studies showing that even with higher numbers of wolves there are not more killings of domesticated animals.

Coyotes have more success in their survival . . .  though they too are looked upon with a great deal of disdain and treated horridly. They are very important predators but unfortunately do come into conflict with farmers and pet owners at times.

But this is an anecdotal article . . .  though true . . . I have a story to tell.

The stories of beasts from my Bestiary continues with the somewhat mysterious and unpredictable, Eastern coyote.

I do find it inspiring and exciting when hearing the sounds of a few coyotes calling out from the forest, fields and gardens. Together the cacophony of sequential coyote howls and yelps may cause one to believe there are a dozen in their smaller family pack. The alpha male and female are either calling out to one another and their pups or letting other coyotes know this is their territory.

When I hear coyotes close by within the gardens or fields, I cannot help but hope . . . that they have not caught a weasel or woodcock . . . but would be happy to share a free-range rabbit, field mouse or vole. Being the generalist that they are . . . they would favor any of the above and a great variety of other food.

Whatever I may be doing . . . I usually stop and go nearer to a window to hear the deep vowel o’s drifting within the dark shroud of night covering the landscape. That is, of course, unless I am already out in the night landscape, as I once often found myself after a meal, just taking in the feel of the darkness and layers of black forms. The night garden and landscape are of a most uniquely enchanting and alluring beauty.

The wind is very still, on the evening I walk down to the lower southeast garden and without hesitation place my tired shell within the hammock that freely stands between four apple trees and a weeping cherry, just above a blueberry field and the forest edge.

Marveling at the bright near fully endowed moon and the quiet . . . with exception to thousands of insects and wild turkey wings brushing boughs, while balancing high up in hemlock and pines . . . I gently sigh.

After some time passes, as I lay floating . . . suspended . . .  between earth and sky . . .  feeling privileged and thankful for being alive and able to live intimately with the land . . . beneath the huge canopy of brilliant, shimmering stars, planets and the large, voluptuous, milky orb casting soft luminous light over wildflower meadows and shrubberies holding nests of birds while also painting shadows of charcoal . . . black beneath trunks of trees . . . out of that darkness and peace . . .  I shudder . . . when hearing a nearby piercing growl that tears through the silky mediative fabric of stillness.

At first, I freeze in fear of the thought . . .  “What was THAT??” and listen more intently than before. With the ending of the second snarl, seemingly directed towards me, hesitation is thrown off and I leap from the hammock to my feet and begin yelling with all my might, while clapping hands and stomping feet to the ground.

I am trying to make it seem like I am more than one truly frightened woman alone . . .  too far from the house or anyone who might help me. I then look over in the direction of the beast and with great relief notice its good-sized form running away from me. Then as beasts often will do . . . it stops and turns to stare back at the creature who spooks it. I am slowly backing up towards the stairs, inching my way up the hill towards the house . . . yelling all the while. I think this creature is a bear but cannot be certain.

In any case, my lingering in sheets of dark night comes to an abrupt end.

The moon once again lures me out into the garden the next night. I am sitting at a table on the leach mound, surrounded by wild carrot, in the north field watching the beginning moonrise . . . this time equipped with flashlight and a two pronged hay fork. The night is lovely while soothing and softening to the mind.

Once again I feel enveloped in the black silken serenity of air and land, when suddenly that familiar frightful growl enters from about twenty feet away at the bottom of the leach field . . .  snatching the creamy cloth of calmness and summoning self-preservation. The beast’s severity clearly is directed towards me . . . of this I have no doubt and of the possible danger too. With a tad less fright than the previous night, I stand and shout  at the beast, who seems determined to shattered my tranquil days ending. Or am I distressing the beast?

I see a dark form, I cannot identify, running away. I quickly walk down to where it was previously standing and point the flashlight beam north . . .  in the direction which it is running. Sure enough, the animal stops, turns around and I catch its eyes glaring back at me in red uncertainty.

I still imagine the fairly large form to be a black bear and so the next day, having had enough, I call the fish and wildlife folks and ask to speak with a bear biologist. The biologist kindly comes out a day later and carefully examines the area where I had seen the beast and the location it ran towards. He finds no black bear tracks but did see clear coyote tracks. Later, after speaking with my neighbors, I learn that they have, of late, seen a rather large female coyote about their land.

The biologist has a theory that the coyote was not so much growling at me, as a warning, but more the snarling may be from suddenly coming upon me without expectation. There was not a breath of wind both nights I was out, and my being so quiet may have startled and surprised the coyote, when he/she finally sensed my being so close by. Normally an animal will know of our being in their environment long before they come upon us. I would like to believe this, but for now, I am giving over the night to the wildlife and will only go out when not alone.

Encountering wildlife is always thrilling and this experience being rather spine-tingling feels all the more WILD. Encounters in daylight are easier to understand . . . being able to see the body language of an animal.

I will never know exactly what was going on in the mind of the beast but feel better knowing that there have been very few ever reports of coyotes attacking humans.  The experience was all the more chilling, as I had read about the killing of a young woman singer (see link) by two coyotes a couple of  years earlier.

Coyotes and other wild creatures are part of our ‘earth community’ and we need to know how to coexist for the well being of all. I am grateful for the eastern coyote and hope that we can come to an understanding of knowing and respect for each other’s presence within the land we share. I do want the coyote and other wild beasts to fear me so that we all remain safe. Last fall, I did see two coyotes together (perhaps an alpha pair) in almost the same place as the one above.

An added note regarding the coyote photographs here. I have only seen one other coyote on my land before this sighting, though I hear them all the time. The first coyote I was lucky enough to see was a beauty . . .  all lit up by the sun with a gorgeous tail but I had no camera, which was a pity as I was very close. He was smaller than the one above and just stared at me before leaping away. The coyote above was over one hundred feet away, about to go into the edge of the forest and it was getting late in the day, so the images are not as good as I might wish. I had a strong feeling that the coyote was looking right back at me, though very far away and through a field of flora.

© 2012 – 2013, Carol Duke. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    Carol I did not know the coyote is part wolf. Wolves are my absolute favorite beasts and I have been fighting for their safety for a long time now…we occasionally have coyote sightings in our back meadow area. I have not heard them howling at night. I do see them on my trek to work along the side of the road or in the fields….they are beautiful beasts and I also feel we must learn to live in the same community. I think I would have been screaming had I heard the growl….

  2. Sue Sweeney says

    Carole – I so enjoy your animal encounters.

    I’m so glad that you accept the coyote; so many people aren’t into “live and let live” with the more dangerous side of wildlife (but then they aren’t into human hunting of over-populated animals either so I don’t know who they think is going to balance things out. De Nile is such a nice place to live!).

    From what I’ve read, since the last Ice Age humans and coyotes have been competitors so the coyotes have learned to live “under the radar” when it comes to humans. I’ve only seen a few from a distance and always felt very honored to have had the gift of the encounter. Meanwhile I often see tracks and marking scat, sometimes in backyards, as well as the woods.

    Being an urban dweller, my night-time outside activity has always been restricted to at least some degree, but the danger has always been other humans, not other species. I often wonder how the presence of dangerous wildlife, and, I guess, humans from other tribes, felt to the humans who lived here back before the European colonists “civilized” the place.

    • says

      Thank you so much Sue! I so agree with your important points here. Predators are essential for a balance. Period. They are a vital part to the natural world and earth community. True that for the most part they are clever in staying clear of humans. I too always feel like the encounters are a gift. If I had chickens I would have to enclose them more carefully . . . not hate the coyote for being wild. I for one am not in “De Nile” with regards to the danger and the impact the human species has towards one another and the entire world community. It can be far more dangerous to walk down many streets and avenues than strolling through a forest.
      Carol Duke recently posted..Flower Hill Farm BUTTERFLIES OF 2011 ~ Sulphurs and Whites

  3. R Freshour says

    I understand folks who enjoy watching coyotes and wolves in the wild. Most would feel somewhat differently if they witnessed these animals feeding on their pet or a newborn fawn. I too am an animal lover, but have witnessed the damage these predators can do to those who make a living on the stock they raise. There are areas in the west where government coyote hunters are attempting to reduce required to reduce the degree of infestation by a species which has no natural predator of its own. Wolves are decimating elk heard in some areas of the west. Coyotes and wolves routinely kill newly born calves and deer. In our state, the DNR reports that 80% of fawn mortality is caused by predators and 80% of this lot is caused by coyotes. It has been documented by trail cameras on Utube that a single coyote is able to run down and kill a healthy full grown deer. I guess for those of us who only grow flowers and plants on our property, we may have to make a choice between seeing deer on our land and the coyotes and wolves that eat our dogs, cats and everything else up to full grown deer. With the coyote population increasing, we may not be able to enjoy both.

  4. says

    Thank you for sharing your views here R Freshour. I will have to simply honor your opinion, but state that I see things in a different light. If cats or dogs or chickens or sheep are left to roam freely in the wild without proper oversight or protection, I would have to blame the humans not the wild creatures, who are playing out their natural role in our earth community. I would have been very sad to see my cat (now composting a Linden tree) of yesteryear eaten by a coyote but the fault would be my own. It is my understanding that wolves, coyotes and other important predators help thin out the unhealthy in large herds. I love fawns but understand the need to keep wild herds in check too. The entire habitat of plants and animals may benefit from more predators not the reverse. Overpopulations of deer (and elk too I imagine) can cause great damage to the native flora. Rabbits, mice and voles which are a great favorite of coyotes would become greatly over populated too.

    Another point for me is that the coyote has lived (perhaps first in the middle of our country) on the land for perhaps millions of years and they have rights too . . . besides being extremely important to maintaing a balance in nature. I am thankful to the coyote for keeping rodents in check so that I can grow food and . . . yes . . . enjoy growing plants that flower (important nectar sources) so that I can delight in living with butterflies, birds and bees.

    For far too long humans have caused immeasurable damage to the flora and fauna of our world and we desperately need to rethink our relationship to our earth and all of her creatures. We have made a right mess of things. No need to go into all the details but animals are becoming extinct every few minutes and acres of trees and land destroyed within the same amount of time. I firmly believe that we must change our ways of stewarding the world we share with other beings. That includes how we see animals that may make our lives a bit more challenging.
    Carol Duke recently posted..Flower Hill Farm BUTTERFLIES OF 2011 ~ Sulphurs and Whites

  5. says

    You story is a nail biter, I was enthralled and a little bit frightened. Think his growl was on par with your clapping and yelling?

    I respect all opinions, and while I am saddened when one animal kills another, it is nature’s way and with deer overpopulation in a great part of the country due to habitat destruction, a coyote, wolf, bear (fill in your not so favorite predator here) is just doing his job. To me, these animals are majestic and just as valuable as a fawn or other “cuter” fauna. Creatures were created for a reason and all have their place in the chain of life.

    I’m with you on the pet thing, Carol. I say don’t complain if you don’t watch your dog/cat. DOMESTIC means that they need help in survival and it is the human who oversees them to make sure they are protected. I specifically put my one dog on a leash at night since the wilds of the yard are a little too tempting and while we don’t have coyotes or wolves (at least not that I know about), there are bobcats and venomous snakes and he is an adventurer, whereas the other dog pretty much stays on the drive when it is dark.

    Fascinating piece Carol. You spelled things out quite well.
    Loret recently posted..Crap!

  6. David Spahr says

    I find it interesting how people will see the reasoning behind eradicating or not growing invasive non native plants and then give invasive, non native, opportunist, animals a free pass. Coyotes are invasive, non native, and a scourge to all other wildlife. They are the purple loosestrife of the animal world. They barely qualify as a legitimate species since they are hybrids of various canine lineages.

    Here in Maine they are a serious problem. They apparently entered Maine in the 1930s but didn’t become a real problem till the 70s-80s. Now it’s ridiculous. We have very few rabbits and partridge and they also are killing the deer fast. The natural reproductive cycle of rabbits has been disrupted for at least 30 years. Populations are far lower than they should be. This is a bad story for native bobcats, foxes, weasels, and turkeys as well. City and suburban dwellers simply don’t get it. Come to Maine and walk with me and I will show you. Winter would be better.

    This is misguided. Maybe you want to argue for non native plants that ruin our ecosystems as well?
    It might be more useful to frame this around plants first and read some of the articles on this site by Sue Reed. Also read Doug Tallamy here. Once you get wrapped around what Sue Reed is saying about plants and ecosystems then maybe you can extend that reasoning to these animals. Theoretically and really there is no difference. It’s little better than having domestic cats as wild animals. We have those around here too and it is a terrible thing. But oh, maybe they can just work their way into the environment? Misguided.

    And for the record, I’m not against wolves. Wolves are a native species and most certainly would help control our out of control “coyote” species.

    David Spahr

    • says

      You are not accurate in your statements.

      The eastern coyote or coywolf should be regarded as native. They are not invasive. They have genes from 2 closely related species including the “native” eastern wolf. The wild dog family (coyotes, wolves) are all closely related and can hybridize. If anything, people helped create this animal by eradicating “native” wolves and destroying habitat which allowed this animal to hybridize then colonize all of the Northeast. It is an animal evolving its own niche and is perfectly adapted to the area because of its “native” wolf genes. It got here on its own so it is not regarded as invasive because it got here from a natural range expansion of coyotes once wolves were killed and subsequent hybridization with wolves. If wolves come back here they will likely compete with eastern coyotes/coywolves and sort things out on their own.

      Second, I and many others are still waiting for scientific documentation of the diminished food supplies (rabbits, deer, etc) of prey animals and a link that coyote predation caused this.

      Finally, they are actually more native to North America than gray wolves (altho I personally hate the native vs. non-native debate). Western coyotes and eastern/red wolves were believed to evolve in North America and these 2 closely related species formed the eastern coyote/coywolf. The gray wolf came to North America via Bering land bridge. Thus, your non-native/invasive argument is a matter of a very narrow perspective.

    • says

      Thank you for sharing your ideas David. I may not agree with all you say but do appreciate your taking the time to share. I am not completely abreast of exactly what is happening in Maine, but I never thought of coyotes as invasive or as non native. I wrote to Jon, whose websites on Coyotes are very inspiring and informative and asked for his opinion.

      I read about how Maine is hoping to restock the deer population . . . for hunting. I always believe it is the humans who create the imbalance and wonder about the data too on what is really killing the deer. I also read that when contents of coyote’s stomachs were examined, mice and other small rodents made up most of the content. As for rabbits, well you will not get any pity for them from me. Sorry.

      If you want to compare plants and animals . . . the rabbits we now have are invasive and “non native” . . . from my recent post – “Our native New England cottontails Sylvilagus (Sylvilagus) transitional, are being consider for the endangered list due to the introduced Eastern cottontail’s Sylvilagus (Sylvilagus) floridanus, zealous procreation.” What can we do?? Coyotes are welcome here!

      Sue’s articles are fabulous!

      In my Bestiary series I am mostly sharing anecdotal tales about ALL the wildlife that visit or live here at our farm . . . especially those that I have had personal encounters with. Thus the title ‘Bestiary.’ Misguided . . . I do not believe my judgement is off here. In fact, I am not intending to make judgements at all, though I cannot help putting in a few of my opinions along with some facts from time to time.

      Again, Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and ideas here with us David.
      Carol Duke recently posted..Waxing and Waning ~ The World Around Us ~ Bluebird Broods


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