The Eastern Coyote (Canis latrans var) is an omnipresent wild neighbor at Rosslyn. The tracks, the songs, and the holistic balance that the Eastern Coyote brings to our +/-70 acres are an everyday reminder that the wildway is thriving, that wild flora and fauna are thriving in our small slice of the Adirondack Coast.
Although I won’t pretend to present the most current science about a topic that is enjoying diverse debate among scholars and researchers far more learned than I, my understanding is that the eastern coyote which frequents our fields and forests is a relatively new hybrid (aka crossbreed) between coyotes, wolves, and domestic dogs.
“Eastern Coyotes are the largest wild canid in the Adirondack Park. They look something like a small German Shepherd Dog, with thick fur, bushy tails tipped with black, and large erect ears. Our Adirondack coyotes tend to be orange-gray or grayish brown above with paler underparts. The front surfaces of the lower legs are black, while the outsides of the legs are tan or rufous. The eyes are yellowish, with round pupils.” (Source: Wild Adirondacks)
In my firsthand anecdotal experience, the Eastern Coyotes we witness on our property are consistently larger than the coyotes we see on our property in Santa Fe, New Mexico. They are robust, confident, and healthy. While they’ve never threatened or even remotely intimidated us (or our dogs), I have more than once witnessed their curiosity. On the rare occasion when I’ve startled one on foot, it has fades into the forest almost immediately. But a couple of times I’ve come across a solitary Eastern Coyote while brush hogging, and it has lingered close enough to keep an eye on me, not so much following the tractor as keeping a wary distance but studying me. The experience has each time felt like a gift, a rare opportunity to observe this handsome canid up close without its immediate instinct to retreat.
This post, the latest installment in my friend or foe series, will endeavor to demystify Canis latrans var.
Eastern Coyote Family & Territory
A similar gift has been received on multiple occasions when we listen to coyotes yipping, calling, and howling. Often the voices merge from multiple directions, eventually gathering into a vast chorus. It can sound as if dozens of coyotes are fêting (and feasting) just beyond the veil of darkness, though I’m aware that the numbers are likely much fewer.
“The Eastern coyote does not form a true ‘pack’ with multiple adults living together like their relative the wolf. Instead they are organized as a ‘family unit’. Each family unit is made up of the adult pair and their pups from the current year. A family unit will defend a territory of 2 to 15 square miles against other coyotes. It is the territorial behavior of coyotes that limits their numbers in any one area.” (Source: NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation)
In other words, the Eastern Coyote is an effective community organizer, dispersing its population according to the sustainability of the region within which it resides. And a healthy Eastern Coyote population significantly benefits the trophic dynamics within our broader community. Nevertheless, these charismatic canids are often misunderstood and persecuted. Efforts to extirpate coyotes are not only inhumane, they are also ineffective due to compensatory reproduction.
“Research suggests that when aggressively controlled, coyotes can increase their reproductive rate by breeding at an earlier age and having larger litters, with a higher survival rate among the young. This allows coyote populations to quickly bounce back, even when as much as 70 percent of their numbers are removed.” (Source: The Humane Society of the United States)
Eastern Coyote Concerns
Conversation about coyotes, coywolves, and most other apex predators inevitably incites worry among pet owners, farmers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Popular mythology has long touted the ferocity of our charismatic, carnivorous neighbors. While we are wise to respect their feral nature, wise to minimize risk to our domesticated animals, and wise to ensure that we not take undue risks or provoke wild animals of any sort, it’s also important to balance our concerns with a scientifically sound understanding. It’s even more important to adapt and embrace cohabitation; our ecosystem will pay dividends and our own health and pleasure will benefit immeasurably.
Frequent readers are aware that friend and Essex neighbor John Davis (Executive Director, The Rewilding Institute; Rewilding Advocate, Adirondack Council) serves as Rosslyn’s wildlife steward. He monitors the health of our land and the increasingly abundant flora and fauna that thrive in our small wildway along the Adirondack Coast. I reference here some of John’s advice on why it is wrong to kill Eastern Coyotes.
Killing these apex predators is wrong for several reasons:
1. It doesn’t work. If people are concerned about Coyotes or CoyWolves killing livestock or house pets, it is better to let the big dogs attain stable, self-regulating populations. Conflicts with domestic animals are most common in predator populations that are being persecuted, such that the young do not have mature role models to teach them to hunt and keep clear of people.
2. Apex predators, particularly top carnivores, are essential members of healthy ecosystems. They help hold herbivores in check and prevent them from over-browsing plant communities…
Hunting by humans does not mimic hunting by native carnivores, for human hunters usually target the big strong “trophy” animals, whereas natural predators select out the weak. Plus, the mere presence of top predators keeps herbivores more alert and healthy and less prone to congregating in and over-browsing sensitive habitats. (Source: John Davis, Wrong to Kill Coyotes, Wolves and CoyWolves | Essex on Lake Champlain)
John’s full article warrants a read. Just use the link in the citation above. And I will sit down with him soon (soonish?) for a one-on-one “Coyote Q&A” in the hopes of fleshing out his perspective and following up on your feedback. Please reach out with questions, etc. in the comments below or via social media.
By way of ellipsis until I post the “Coyote Q&A”, my personal experience is one of wonder and gratitude for our resident coyotes. They keep the deer population healthy and balance the rodent and rabbit populations (effectively reducing Lyme disease risks). And their song is the Adirondack anthem I savor when I’m in Essex and miss when I’m away.
Frequent photographs from our trail cams document the healthy population of wild canines calling our fields and forests home. Although abundant, the familiar faces greeting us in photos win us over again and again. And sometimes inspiration strikes in the form of a coyote haiku. Or two.
Coyote Haiku I
Lone inquisitor –
scissoring, scanning, coursing –
Coyote Haiku II
Handsome hybrids hunt,
decipher scent streams, patrol
I admit to feeling a certain romance for these wild distant cousins to the Labrador retrievers we have owned. I’m not blind to the challenges they pose for farmers, but there is an increasingly robust and reliable body of scientific research that can help guide sustainable agriculture in concert with coyotes and other apex predators. It’s high time that we learn to live together with our wild neighbors.
The following photographs of Eastern Coyote were recorded with our trail cameras and have been shared over social media.
Here are some more coyote photographs captured on our Rosslyn trail cams.
If you’re interested, here are some additional posts where I’ve featured coyotes photographed at Rosslyn: