Monday, August 29, 2011


These are not my best photos, but they are what's in the camera this week -- an opportunity caught from my doorway in all its fuzzy glory.

The amount of livestock and ranched fowl lost to coyotes across America is estimated at 10-20%. I haven't seen figures for numbers of pets lost to them.

We have packs of coyotes around us. Their yip-yip-yipping howl is part of the night. They are the primary reason I make sure to lock the chicken coop at dusk and bring the ducks into the backyard. They are the reason I closed up the barn at night until the filly Bonita was old enough and big enough to join the rest of the herd. It's at night the packs hunt.

It's during the day that they'll catch you by surprise. Rogue males, young adults forced out of their pack by the alpha male, roam by day, looking for lunch. Some years there seems to be a lot of rogues, some years hardly any at all. There were a few years when my coworkers got quite used to me shouting "Coyote!" during a conference call and rushing off to chase one away.

Sometimes I'd see the coyote come up nearly to my porch, hunting for the free-ranging chickens that hang out under it. Sometimes I'd hear the loud fussing of the guineas and know there was something afoot that shouldn't be. Sometimes the dogs would see it first and I couldn't hear anything else but their anxious cries.

I used to suspect the coyotes of knowing when I was on a call. Before I joined a conference call (I worked from home), I would ask the dogs into the bedroom and close the door to keep them from disturbing me in my office. The disadvantage to that was when a coyote showed up -- as they invariably seemed to do while I was on a concall -- I had to rush back to the bedroom, open the door and shout, "Coyote!" before the dogs could even begin to race out of the house, hot on the coyote's tail.

I lost a few chickens that way. But I also had a few saved though the dogs' heroic efforts. While I would NEVER send the dogs after more than a single coyote (and I NEVER let them roam at night), when they do chase a coyote, the unencumbered coyote has enough of a headstart to easily outrun the dogs. Occasionally, though, the coyote may need to drop a chicken to be able to run fast enough.

The flock leaders -- the first and second in command -- are quite brave roosters. Both have been carried off by coyotes and lived to tell the tale. I have no doubt Big Red, the standard-size roo, reminds the ladies of his exploits every chance he gets. Scooter, the little bantam roo, is more modest, but even the standard-size hens seemed to admire him a bit more once he showed them the scar left by his encounter.

I snapped the guy you see at the top of the post and below in the early morning as he wandered through before the chickens had been let out and while the outside cat was safe under the porch. The horses were unruffled and even the coyote didn't take my shouts for him to move on very seriously.  He'd trot on a bit, then stop and look back at me. Once he was far enough way, I sent the dogs after him. A warning only because I time it so neither the dogs nor the coyotes will be cornered into any fights.

If I didn't have vulnerable ducks and chickens and guineas, I'd be much more tolerant of having coyotes around. I like coyotes. I don't begrudge the fact they're trying to live just like the rest of us and that it's getting harder and harder for them to eke out a living the more we encroach upon their habitat. When I hear the occasional rifle shot in the pre-dawn hours, though, I realize not everyone feels the same.

A few years ago I lived on the edge of suburbia. I would take my American Pointer, Bailey, and my Doberman, Lance, to the bit of wilderness just beyond where the last houses had been built and let them run off-leash. Three coyotes lived there and if we timed our walks just right, the coyotes would be out and ready to play. They didn't rough-and-tumble with the dogs, but they'd chase the dogs then the dogs would chase them. They didn't seem to mind that I was there watching.

I don't know what the answer is out here on a neighbor-wide scale much less a county-wide or state-wide one. All I know is that we have to all figure out how to live together somehow. And be understanding when nature does as nature will.


Sarah Laurenson said...

Where my mom lives, there's very little respect for animals. If the kept ones get enough to eat, it's a blessing. One family had little goats and then got these beautiful white dogs to protect them. The dogs had large open sores that were not taken care of. The next time I visited all the animals were gone and I don't know what happened to them.

My mom fed a few free ranging cats on her front porch. One came with buckshot in it. Another she had to put down because it had been shot. She'd been feeding that one for well over a year and was quite attached.

The other day she found a dead raccoon by her sprinkler head. Turns out the neighbor she asked to help remove it is the one who shot it. He thought they were crawling into the woods to die.

Though I love the idea of having land and saving some animals, I can't stand the thought of living near such people.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Sarah: It's hard when you can't choose your neighbors to know what you're getting yourself into anywhere, I think.

Twenty years ago I lived in the country in a very depressed area and it was truly frightening how awful people were to their animals and to each other. Here, it's middle-class-ish and there are still people who mistreat their animals and rednecks intolerant of other people. It's about 50:50 between people who treat their animals like children and people who just have animals and don't really do much for them.

But I've also lived in the 'burbs and seen dogs so neglected the collars put on when they were puppies were never let out lengthwise and became embedded in the dogs' necks.

It's heartbreaking no matter where abuse happens, isn't it? Sounds like your mom at least is caring. Like you <3.

Jo-Ann said...

Cheers, Phoenix. Kudos for remembering that the coyotes were there before people. I'm always disgusted by the way that indigenous species are treated as vermin - regardless of the country. They are being forced into smaller territories due to the encroachment of either farm land or suburbia.
Are coyotes a protected species? What is their status ont he endangered list?

BTW word ver = dedlypyg. Gives me images of a wild boar!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Jo: Dedlypyg is too funny! We actually have some wild boar out here. I've seen a herd of about 25 across the road from me.

Unfortunately, neither the boar nor the coyotes are protected species in Texas where I live. In fact, our governor -- who may be a front-runner next year for presidency -- was out jogging last year with his daughter's labrador pup and a slew of secret service when a coyote appeared. The story goes the coyote menaced the pup (again, one dog and lots of men vs one scared coyote) so the governor yanked out his trusty concealed handgun that he is licensed to carry and killed the coyote because that's what a real Texan does.

Sadly, the neighbors can shoot all the coyotes they can get in their sights. Coyotes are considered nongame animals so there aren't limits set on how many can be taken.