"Coyote's a survivor; I reckon he's got to be. He lives in the snow at 40 below or Malibu by the sea."
Jimmy and Evelyn live in the horse corral. At first I thought they were temporary residents but now I'm not sure. I say this because they're old enough now to know what they want and they don't seem interested in moving on.
I like having them here, I must admit. Showing up some early mornings and most evenings since their first appearance last spring, the two of them materialize to watch me. They keep their flight distance but they're always looking and listening.
The ravens brought them here; at least that's what I'm thinking. And back-tracking further, Stark raven brought the ravens.
Here at the Wildworks wildlife center we house a variety of wild birds and mammals including a non-releasable raven named Stark. Stark Raven. Get it?
Two years ago a potential mate for Stark flew in from the wild and the two courted through the cage. Stark would save portions of his diet and feed her through the wire which I thought was pretty darn romantic. She was here most days and as we got to know her we named her Lenore. But alas, when the two ravens were unable to consummate their relationship, she began looking elsewhere.
Sometime later Lenore appeared with a wild raven mate by her side. Then the following year they brought their new family of four juveniles. It was funny (and noisy) watching them practice flying and competing for the peanuts I threw in their direction. The kids were pretty uncoordinated and the parents seemed to get a kick out of all of this too. I started worrying that now, with my added encouragement, an entire flock of ravens would be living here but the kids turned out to be only brief visitors and they eventually went off to their future. Lenore and her mate, Poe, stayed. The duo call every morning at dawn and fly with me on dog walks. When Lenore and Poe arrive, Jimmy and Evelyn are always nearby.
I first sighted the puppy pair one morning last spring, scruffy and emaciated with
mange replacing fur over much of their bodies. I assumed, because I've seen it so many times, that the two young coyotes were succumbing to the affects of secondary rodenticide poisoning. This lethal product is intended for rodents but doesn't stop there. When carnivores eat the poisoned rodents they get sick too and many, after a lengthy and painful illness, perish as well.
I thought maybe I could help them so for two weeks I tossed them meat laced with antibiotics which they willingly gobbled and, when over time they got better, I was thrilled. Maybe it helped, maybe it didn't, but I was just glad they were better.
They hung around as they grew and they were so relaxed that at times I would look out into the horse corral and see them lying flat in the sunny area. Although I've seen Jimmy and Evelyn playing with each other, my young Australian shepherd, Star, has tried to join them a few times but is not welcome. In certain situations, however, I have witnessed the two species coming together as friends. Native Americans called the coyote "God's Dog" after all, so the two are more similar than different. Star hasn't given up on a relationship of some kind so now she's coerced them into a little game of chase back and forth which seems to satisfy everybody. The funny thing is watching my 16 year old dog, Hopi. She doesn't want to play with them. She wants to get them. But alas she's 16 so she runs at them panting heavily and the coyotes trot off casually.
My four dogs and I take a pack walk at dusk. At about six months of age the coyotes started to come along. They follow directly behind unless there is a lot of human noise in the area and then they cut over through the hills to meet us out there. If I don't see them right off I call them by name and their big ears poke up through the sage. If they see other hikers they disappear. The mere mention of the name Jimmy makes my dog Star crazy and she starts frantically whining and looking, gearing up for the chase. Much to her disappointment, she's on a leash. The coyotes know this too and remain calm and nonchalant, always about 20 yards away.
Why do they come with us on the walks? People have said to me that these predators are just waiting for the opportunity to lure the dogs back to their pack so they can make quick work of them. Although coyotes usually travel in pairs, I'm not saying that things like that don't happen, but in this case I don't buy it. They've had plenty of opportunities to gang up on Star and at least do some damage. But all they've done is to tell her through their canine body language that they're not interested in playing with her. As I see it, these are the three reasons that Jimmy and Evelyn come on the walks: social needs, curiosity and simply because it's fun. Just like the dogs.
Jimmy and Evelyn have taken to howling with our resident wildlife center coyotes, Trickster and Mesa. Each one of the four has its own recognizable song. All are beautiful. Four coyotes sound like 20 when they talk to each other and it's almost at the decimal level of a rock concert. I've often heard it said that when coyotes howl they're killing something. Let's think about this folks. Just like we do, coyotes converse with each other about all sorts of things, and as is true of many species, their language is sophisticated. Plus, if you think about this logically a coyote cannot kill something with its teeth and vocalize much at the same time. Imagine singing while biting an apple. Chewing and howling are simply incompatible behaviors. The other thing that makes this not possible is that the last thing a hungry coyote wants to do is announce to the wild world that he's caught dinner. In nature, it's every mouth for itself. As in the case of Lenore and Stark, they do sometimes share and since the accident I think Jimmy shares with Evelyn.
Evelyn and Jimmy were named after a stand-up bass guitar and a ventriloquist's dummy, respectively. (That's another story.) They're names suit them although I think they each think their name is Jimmy since I seem to use that name more often, probably because I see Jimmy more. He's the bold one of the two and he'll come forward to the corral fence nearest me while Evelyn stays back a ways, much more so since the injury.
It's her right rear leg. When it first happened I didn't see Evelyn for a few days. Jimmy's behavior changed also as he would stay close to the area in back of the corral where the duo usually enters. I worried about her and I sort of started looking for her which I soon realized was ridiculous since I never see them unless they want me to. A coyote's fur is the color of the wild, tan with a million earth tones, which aids in camouflage much of the time. And, like all wild animals, a coyote can hold perfectly still for an amazing length of time. We humans often overlook the fact that, although omnivorous, we're predators too and, like a cat or coyote, our forward facing eyes are keyed into movement. If a bushy-tailed coyote queen wants to hide, you can forget about finding her.
So I waited. In the meantime Jimmy stayed at their entrance to the corral as if he was guarding her or protecting her. Then finally she appeared. She was unable to put pressure on the injured leg, holding it up at the hip. Three legs worked ok for her as she still moved quickly when needed. Seeing this I felt sorry for her even though she wasn't feeling sorry for herself. There's no time for self pity in the wild. It's just life and death with very little in between. Long-term suffering rarely exists out there and in the end predators become prey. You've heard the phrase only the strong survive. That said, in nature the young, old, sick, weak and disabled are at a disadvantage. The fact that these two mangy coyotes are living through their first year is very special.
And there's more good news:
I can attest to the fact that just these two coyotes (one working with a disability) have completely eliminated any interest a rabbit or ground squirrel may have previously had in eating the hay I put out for the horses. The rodents and lagomorphs are gone, almost completely.
Two summers ago I was finally forced to put doors on my covered hay structure because one day while I was gone from early morning until 5 pm, they struck. As I drove up to the barn I saw the pile.Several bales of hay (literally) had been removed from the barn, stalk by stalk, leaf by leaf, and placed in a pile on the ground in front of the structure. Unbelievable! The extreme ground mammal party was so amazing to look at that I first thought it was a human crime. Then I remembered that squirrels have the biggest brain per body size of any mammal, and I knew that a dray (with a possible warren accomplice) was to blame.
I must say I was in awe of the rodents who along with the rabbits had also over the years eaten all of my plants and various cords to things. One ground squirrel lived under the hood of my car for three days and ate the wiring to my lights, the car stereo etc. I like rabbits and squirrels but give me a break.
Enter: Jimmy and Evelyn. No, wait. First, enter Lenore who I observed capturing a meal last spring. For awhile she watched from a tree then flew down and for ten minutes perched motionless at the lip of a ground squirrel hole just off to the side and out of the residents direct line of vision. If you were a squirrel and you poked your head out of the hole you wouldn't see her. She knew they were in there and when a young squirrels head appeared that was that. The rodent family soon moved elsewhere.
As Jimmy and Evelyn became permanent fixtures almost all the squirrels and rabbits moved to higher ground. At first I would hear the familiar ground squirrel warning call letting all know that coyotes were near but as everyone began moving out silence moved in. There was simply no one to warn.
I don't kid myself about the smart and opportunistic qualities that are coyote. If my domestic cats or Papillion mix were to escape the house and run free in the yard they'd be history. But that's ok, I'd understand. If the coyotes don't get them, the great horned owls will and if you live in the city you can add cars to the list of small mammal predators. We all just need to be careful, don't we? Extra careful.
I hear a lot about coyote problems but, of course, the coyotes are not the problem.
It's us. There I said it. We're the problem.
A long time ago God's Dog used to also be called the Prairie Wolf because that was where the wild dogs lived--- on the prairies. Today, in spite of aggressive,
on-going irradiation attempts coyotes have greatly expanded their range to include much of the United States and are considered to be urban wildlife as many now make their homes in the cities. Far better than dogs at observational learning, they have certainly learned a lot from us. Although they prefer natural prey (like squirrels and rabbits!) they now brilliantly take advantage of our irresponsible nature, cashing in on the opportunity to take unprotected small pets, pet food and unsecured garbage. In the often dry Mediterranean climate of Los Angeles we water huge lawns, sport swimming pools, fountains, manmade lakes and more. What smart coyote would refuse all we have to offer?
So I guess the question is, now what do we do?
Originally the Grey Wolf was the world's most widely distributed mammal. Just over one hundred years ago, 250,000 to 300,000 wolves were found throughout the United States but as the Europeans pushed west, the extermination process followed. Lacking the adaptability of the coyote these family oriented, highly intelligent animals were at our mercy and it didn't take long at all for the wolf to almost completely disappear from North America.
Now we've changed our minds. We want them back.
In recent years within Yellowstone National Park the reintroduction of the Grey Wolf has been successful. It's interesting to note that now that wolf packs are thriving in Yellowstone the coyote population in the park has been cut in half.
So--as wolves are the coyote's primary predator, and the keepers of the only coyote extermination method that seems to achieve good success, I can see only one answer to our urban coyote problem....
I like it .... and you?
Good photos taken by Terry Matkins, the others taken by Mollie Hogan, and newsletter design by Charlie Romero.