January 24, 2023

Coyotes sing “America’s original National Anthem”

Mary Apel

Photo by Bruce Brooks

In August of 1804, Lewis and Clark first noted the “prairie wolf” which, they wrote, “was barking at us as we passed”. While the species might have been new to the famed explorers, the Canis latrans (coyote) has thrived on our continent for more than a million years, according to a 2016 report by National Geographic. Native American myths and legends of the coyote abound; often he is known as a trickster, and typically displays many of the most disliked human traits. It bears repeating that in many cultures indigenous to North America, the Coyote is also called the Creator of Mankind.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks considers the coyote a “nuisance animal” however, categorizing it along with the beaver, fox, wild hog, nutria, and skunk on the prestigious list.

You might be seeing more coyotes this time of year, but that is not necessarily because of growth in their population. Coyotes become more active during winter for a number of reasons. Young coyotes leave their parents to find new homes, and older coyotes will be looking to breed during these months, meaning they’re out and about a bit more. Coyotes like to eat the plants and animals living around yards and homes, like rabbits, mice, squirrels, and fruits. Coyotes are opportunists, and will follow an easy path to a meal, making human living-spaces look attractive.

But remember that not all coyotes are problem coyotes. Wildlife specialists note that many coyotes live around people, pets, and livestock and never have negative interactions with them. When coyotes become too habituated to (or comfortable around) people, problems can occur. Here are some suggested ways to discourage coyotes from feeling invited to your property.

Coyote prevention techniques: Feed pets indoors when possible, and store pet and livestock feed where it’s inaccessible to wildlife. Eliminate water bowls and other artificial water sources (if possible). Position bird feeders in a location that is less likely to attract small animals or bring the feeders in at night (to keep coyotes from feeding on the bird food or the other animals). Take down bird feeders if issues are occurring. Do not discard edible garbage where coyotes can get to it. Always keep pets leashed and, if kept outside, provide secure nighttime housing for them. Any outdoor pet or poultry runs should have a top to make them more secure and the fencing should be buried in the ground to prevent digging under the fence. If you start seeing coyotes around your home, discourage them by shouting, making loud noises, shaking a container of coins, using an air horn or whistle, spraying them with a hose, or throwing rocks or tennis balls but NEVER corner a coyote – always give the coyote a free escape route.

Farmers with livestock can take additional precautions: Use net-wire or electric fencing to keep coyotes away from livestock. Shorten the length of calving or lambing seasons. Confine livestock in a coyote-proof corral at night. Use lights above corral, and strobe lights and sirens to scare away coyotes. Remove dead livestock promptly so coyotes won’t be able to scavenge. Use guard animals, such as dogs, donkeys, and llamas to protect livestock.

Photo by Bruce Brooks

Coyotes as Survivalists:
The coyote’s opportunistic ways have served them well as they’ve adapted to a changing landscape. As the human population around them increased and the wolves were thus eliminated, the coyotes naturally moved in to fill the void. Less particular than wolves, Coyotes could live off the rodents that were multiplying around them as people brought settlements in. Coyotes have now even grown well-adapted to urban areas, including current reports of problematic New York City packs. Despite vast and historic efforts to eradicate the coyote, it has continued to thrive. In the years between 1947 and 1956, approximately 6.5 million coyotes were killed in the American West, using blanket poisoning. The coyotes keep coming back.

Author Dan Flores told National Geographic, “One of the adaptations they have is that, whenever their populations are pressured, their litter sizes go up. The normal size is five to six pups. When their populations are suppressed, their litters get up as high as 12 to 16 pups. You can reduce the numbers of coyotes in a given area by 70 percent but the next summer their population will be back to the original number. They use their howls and yipping to create a kind of census of coyote populations. If their howls are not answered by other packs, it triggers an autogenic response that produces large litters.”

Other traits that make this species experts in survival: Coyotes are crepuscular, which means they’re generally most active during dawn and dusk. Coyotes are often monogamous throughout their lifetime. They are social animals that live in small groups. Their newborn are tiny and blind, needing both parents to help feed and care for them in the early weeks. Males might soon leave the pack, but females often stick around for much longer and even help raise and feed the next litter. They can dig under and jump over fences, and know how to work alone or with other members of their pack.

Indigenous pests, tricksters, nightlong howlers, symbols of resilience and survival– call them what you will: coyotes are still here. Many native tribes predicted the coyote will outlive us all, howling out what Flores called “America’s original national anthem.”

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