Coyotes

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The coyote is one animal that continues to intrigue me since it’s taken up residence in West Virginia.  The eastern US is one of the last areas of the country to be colonized by coyotes.  I remember growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s when the word coyote wasn’t even mentioned around here.

The first reported coyotes in WV were in Tucker County in 1950.  In neighboring Virginia, prior to 1983, only 8 coyotes had been positively identified.  Only 6 coyotes were positively documented in West Virginia between 1980 and 1985.  Even with those documented coyotes roaming wild in the 80’s they were few and far between and rarely seen.

Fast forward to today, and coyote sightings are an every year occurrence for me now.  Almost every time I check my trail camera there’s a picture or pictures of coyotes on it.  I still remember my first coyote sighting in WV while deer hunting in Lewis County in 2000.       As I was sitting there waiting for a white-tail to come my way, I could hear a flock of turkeys carrying on and every once in a while, I could catch a glimpse of them flying up in trees.  I thought this was odd because it was the middle of the day and wasn’t time for them to go roost.

All of a sudden, I could see legs moving in the brush coming around the hill towards me.  I thought that the animal looked lower to the ground than a deer, and then this coyote came trotting out in the path and stopped.  At first I thought boy that’s a huge fox, or is it a dog and then it clicked that it was a coyote.  This gave me enough time to center the cross hairs on its chest and squeeze the trigger.

I’ve talked to several spring turkey hunters about how the gobblers don’t gobble like they used to.  It seems that they’ve adapted and don’t give away their location as easy nowadays.  Although, during West Virginia’s 5-year Wild Turkey Survival Study, only one incidence of coyote predation was documented.  The gift of flight helps as an escape route for both turkeys and grouse but they are still prey.

Another thing that I’ve noticed and has been documented is the decline of red foxes in recent years.  Coyotes tend to push the red foxes out of their open range as they don’t want to compete with the larger predator.  Grey foxes are more aggressive and inhabit woodland areas and seem to fair better in getting along with coyotes than the red fox.  The adult eastern coyote is bigger than the western species and can weigh up to 45 pounds.  It is believed that the coyotes came from the northwest where they might have crossed with timber wolves, and from the southeast in which they could have mated with red wolves as well as wild dogs.  This could explain for the eastern coyote’s weight gain.

“Genetic testing has indicated that as coyotes moved eastward, a male coyote hybridized with a female dog and their female hybrid offspring successfully bred with coyotes” according to a DNA study in the southeast (see link below).  There has also been genetic proof that eastern coyotes have hybridized with eastern timber wolves as well as red wolves.  In North Carolina genetic testing revealed that hybridization was taking place between coyotes and red wolves in the Red Wolf Recovery area there enough so that US Fish and Wildlife recognizes the hybridization as the primary threat to Red Wolf recovery.

A coyote’s diet is made up of mainly deer and small mammals such as rats and mice.  It has been found that during June and July is when coyotes target deer the most, and fawns make up to 70 percent of their diet during these two months.  Predation on deer also picks up during the winter months and is more significant during severe winters with deep snow pack.  Carcasses left over from deer season provide an easy winter meal as well.

Of course, they won’t pass up a rabbit, grouse, turkey, chipmunk, squirrel, groundhog, you get the picture.  Coyotes will also consume fruits, nuts, berries, and the occasional pet.  Pet owners should be aware of this and keep a close eye on their pets especially at night when coyotes are more active.  They are hunting machines and we humans are their only predators in West Virginia.

It’s been a learning experience for me the last 4 years running a trap line for coyotes, something I never had the option to do 25 to 30 years ago.  The coyote is here to stay in Almost Heaven and the wildlife is adapting to their presence.  I hear them howling on a weekly basis around here, sometimes close to the house, and they better watch where they step come January and February.

Link:  http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/nwrc/publications/11pubs/mastro111.pdf