Coyotes are members of the canine family that have been around for a long time. They are likely to be around for a long time to come. Part of the reason is that through many hundreds of years, coyotes have developed a relationship with man that often isn’t understood and is often ignored. The bond exists even if it is one-sided.
Coyotes to Native Americans
Coyote pups at a den:
Different American Indian tribes thought of coyotes in different ways, however, it was often thought of as a trickster. To some, the coyote was wily but cowardly and was intelligent enough to outwit its many enemies. For many tribes, coyotes were and are very important totems and symbols of ingenuity.
The coyote, like the wolf, is also a symbol of loving families. This is because coyotes tend to be devoted parents. They are loving, protective and nurturing to their young. American Indians could observe this and also see how the parents often played and frolicked with their offspring.
Coyote populations and family structure
Despite what some people have reported, coyotes normally don’t congregate in packs as wolves do. They do, however, stay together as a family unit until the pups have grown up sufficiently to survive on their own. Coyote parents will teach the pups the art of hunting and this is part of the misconception that they form packs.
At night, while hunting, a family group may spread out and move rapidly, occasionally giving their distinctive barking howls so the group can maintain contact with each other even when they can’t see each other. The group may be no more than the mother, father, and four pups, but it can sound like there are many more, since they can move so rapidly.
Even though they don’t form true packs, coyotes can be very numerous in some areas, if there is enough food for them. Considering the diet of coyotes and the fact that they tend to follow human settlements, this means that there is usually food for them in most areas. Their dietary choices are also the reason coyotes are often despised.
Coyotes are very opportunistic feeders. They will catch and eat meat and this is their top choice. However, they will also eat fruits, vegetables, insects and even carrion. In agricultural fields, they will happily devour fruit and vegetable crops.
Since meat is their preference, they will also hunt and eat nearly any creature they can catch. This includes domesticated chickens and other fowl. It also occasionally includes cats or small dogs. This naturally doesn’t make them tremendously popular with a lot of people. It should be noted, though, that they will normally not go after cats or little dogs if there is an adequate supply of food and if the coyote is healthy.
On the other hand, in most places, coyotes eat a huge amount of mice, voles, lemmings, and squirrels. This is an obvious positive. In fact, small rodents usually easily make up the bulk of a coyotes diet. They are so in tune with being nature’s mouse catchers that when rodent populations peak, which they are prone to do periodically, the coyote population also usually increases.
Lessons to be learned
Footage of a coyote hunting mice in Yellowstone National Park:
In some places, coyotes are actively destroyed when they are seen. At times, a bounty is even put on them. The goal is to eradicate the coyote from those locations, usually with the standard excuses of protecting livestock, pets, crops and because coyotes have the potential to carry rabies (as is true of all mammals). We can learn a lot from those efforts.
Eradication measures were begun in a town in southern Oregon in the 1970s because it was noted that there had been a noticeable increase in the coyote population in the agricultural land surrounding the town. They used the same excuses that have been mentioned, but truth is that there were no reports of livestock being attacked or killed, there wasn’t an increase in pet disappearances, most of the crops consisted of wheat, alfalfa, and potatoes, which hold little interest to coyotes unless they are starving, and there had been no reports of rabid animals of any sort in the area. Still, the town put a bounty on the coyotes.
A large number of the animals were killed and subsequently destroyed. Late that fall, as the growing season ended and cold temperatures arrived, people started noticing an abnormally high influx of deer mice in town. The problem got continually worse through the winter and by spring, the mice were in almost plague numbers.
Even more telling was the fact that another, much smaller and more agricultural town that was only about 30 miles from the one that had been over-run by mice didn’t attempt to kill out the coyotes in that area. They had no increase in the mouse population. Coyotes, it seems, were far more important for their ability to keep rodent populations in check than most people realized.
Coyotes have a huge range
Coyotes are found naturally in all continental states in the North America and Canadian provinces. They are even found in Mexico. They live in wilderness places, but also have an undeniable link to man and tend to be found nearly everywhere man lives on the continent. Though they are normally shy animals, they are occasionally seen wandering streets of towns. This behavior might seem strange until it is considered that rodents also have a connection with man and are often found in great numbers wherever people live.
Coyotes are creatures that should be respected and appreciated rather than feared and destroyed at every opportunity. They are one of natures best mouse traps.