At Home in Nature

  (Agate, Colorado)
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Coyotes play hockey and eat pizza

At dusk the coyotes were singing so loud I could hear them inside.  I went out and listened to their songs.  I guessed they were having dinner, but I am still not sure what kind of pizza they were sharing.

Coyotes are very picky eaters.  Contrary to popular belief, they are little threat to agriculture, and in fact are a beneficial predator for your farm and ranch.  Even if you have chickens.  Or baby calves.  Or dogs and cats.  Coyotes will not break into coops or barns, or into your home.  If you want to keep animals safe, give them shelter.

But even still, coyotes do not prefer to eat our domestic animal friends.  They prefer to eat rodents, insects, rabbits, small birds, eggs and other things that are smaller than they are.  They only rarely hunt in packs like wolves, and therefore do not hunt things larger than themselves.  When they do hunt in packs, they try to wear out their prey by exhaustion, dehydration or other siege tactics.  Voles, prairie dogs, eastern cottontails, ground squirrels and mice are their favorites, but coyotes will also eat snakes and other lizards, too.

Like most animals, they do like human garbage.  Especially pizza.

Like most members of the dog family, they are omnivorous, and do not rely on meat.  They also eat quantities of fruit (when in season, or in the garbage), some vegetables (seasonally), and have learned to like human-processed grains.  They are scavengers, and will eat dead or decaying matter, too.

Occasionally, it is true, they have attacked people.  But domestic dogs have attacked – and even killed – more people than coyotes.  For that matter, domestic cats have attacked people too.  When an animal attacks a human, it is usually out of desperation, and some level of antagonism (however unintentional). 

We humans are very big creatures, comparatively speaking: we are some of the largest animals that walk the earth in terms of weight and size.  While not as big as the biggest animals, we are bigger than some equines and bovines, and quite a measure bigger than the antelope and deer.  Coyotes also fear us because they easily learn that we have extraordinary powers, we can hurt them if we want to.  Most animals will even fear a human child.

Coyotes fear lions, bears, and other large predators that eat them, but most coyotes die more natural deaths.  Though coyotes share their food with older members of their community who are less able to hunt, it is not often that there is enough food to share and many coyotes will die of starvation when they grow too old to hunt.  Or of exposure to the elements.  They usually live 10 years in the wild, and can live twice that in captivity.

Coyotes like to live in old badger dens, but can dig their own.  They are naturally active during the day, but have learned to avoid humans and are now active at night. 

Female coyotes are monoestrous, and remain in heat for 2–5 days between late January and late March, during which mating occurs. Once the female chooses a partner, the mated pair may remain temporarily monogamous for a number of years. Depending on geographic location, spermatogenesis in males takes around 54 days, and occurs between January and February. The gestation period lasts from 60 to 63 days. Litter size ranges from 1 to 19 pups; the average is 6.  50-70% of the coyote pups will not live to adulthood. 

More than 90,000 coyotes are killed each year by the United States government. This is done supposedly to protect cattle and other livestock.  More coyotes are killed by recreational and professional hunters, hired by farmers and ranchers to rid them of this terrifying beast.  Yet the number of coyote kills of cattle and other domestic stock hardly warrants this slaughter.  Especially when they are such a benefit to farmers, keeping down the vermin that would waste a crop: coyotes only destroyed about 2.2% of the total number of destroyed sheep in 2004.  Ranchers would do better by focusing on the greater threats to their flocks.

Coydogs, a hybrid of dogs and coyotes, are more a threat to livestock than coyotes.  And the numbers of coyotes killed is sometimes confused with the population of coydogs exterminated.  Coydogs have become a problem in warmer regions of the United States.

Coywolves are less common – wolves and coyotes generally hate each other – but do occur.  These are responsible for the only two recorded deaths from coyotes (true coyotes were not at fault).

Coyotes in Phoenix have learned how to play hockey.  Or at least a team is named after them.  It is disputable whether the Phoenix Coyotes play hockey well.

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