Last Friday I was roused from a sound sleep by wife's excited calls from the kitchen."Coyote! Look is that a coyote? Quick! Get up! Look!" Sure enough it was a prime example of an eastern coyote that was hunting around our backyard. He was there for about three minutes and then he was gone. I was glad to have gotten up and find my glasses quick enough to see this animal.
Considering how common the coyote is, it is not often seen. It is estimated that there are over 30,000 scattered around New York State. The coyote we are more familiar with seems to be the western species; it is a little more visible in its natural range of the open prairie. The western species of canis latrans is much smaller (25 to 35 pounds) than our eastern species (45 to 80 pounds).
The excitement of having seen a coyote from the comfort of my home, my wife and I had a great topic for the breakfast table. We hypothesized what it was hunting for. It was almost forty-five minutes since we saw the animal when he came trotting back into our yard. Again we scrambled to the window to get a good view, and as fast as he arrived he left. Now my wife was worried that he was looking for dinner, either our little dog, Muffin, or the neighbor's cat. The cat has not been seen lately so maybe the coyote was only here for dessert. Okay, I have a dog named Muffin, you can stop laughing; it was my daughter's dog. He is a very smart dog; he just has a funny name.
Rather shy the coyote tries to avoid human contact and does most of its hunting after dark. Because of their shyness you would think they would live as far from humans as possible. Coyotes eat small rodents, squirrels, rabbits, insects, berries, and when the opportunities are right, deer or turkeys. They take advantage of any offering which includes carrion, small pets (dogs and cats), pet food left out for fido, or open trash. In fact their preferences for food makes living near humans worthwhile. So, it is not unusual to see them or hear their howls in suburbia or even the city.
There are several theories how coyotes arrived in New York State and eastern North America. The first is that they were actually here when the settlers first arrived in North America but retreated to the north as the land was cleared. When the reforestation started back in the early 1900's the coyote moved back. The second theory, which is currently more widely accepted, is that the western coyote expanded its range eastward, once established here it evolved into a distinct larger subspecies. The third theory, which is gaining acceptance, is that the eastern coyote is actually evolved from the red wolf or northern gray wolf. Some interesting DNA analysis is being done to trace their lineage. The evolution is about 300,000 years in the making. The study will take a few years and after reviews from genetic experts we should know the most likely theory.
Coyotes are very territorial with a home range between 6 and 15 square miles. The females give birth to their pups in March or April, and a litter can be as many as a dozen pups or more. The pups, when grown, are driven away by the female. They will travel hundreds of miles to find vacant territories of their own. It is possible for coyotes to breed with domestic dogs. However their breeding cycles do not coincide making this difficult yet genetically it is possible and has happened. The hybrid offspring have their pups in January, a tough time for the young to survive insuring to keep the coyote bloodline pure. Coyotes actually would rather dine on than breed with domestic dogs.
Muffin tells me the neighbor's cat is still with us; he was just at the door looking in on Muff. I told you Muffin was smart.
By Jon Smith
Posted on Tue, December 29, 2015