A few days ago, our local coyote chorus was in full voice near our house barking and howling to beat the band. It sounded like they were just at the edge of our yard and they probably were. It’s not uncommon for a coyote with an attitude to strut leisurely right across the lawn. If you’re thinking from this that we must live way out in the boonies you’d be wrong. We’re right at the edge of town.
Coyotes are only one of a number of wild animals, including but not limited to raccoons, possums, skunks, and beavers, that have adapted to civilization and often live or hunt right in cities. The reason is simple. Food. It’s a lot easier to snatch a meal from your garbage can or out of your pet’s dish than to stalk a meal in the woods. Some ill-advised people actually put out food to attract these critters, reinforcing their lack of fear of people and making them bolder.
And, if a pack wants fresher food on the hoof – or paw – there’s always an abundance of pet dogs and cats. They love doggie treats, and cats are coyote candy. A decoy will sometimes purposely lure dogs into the woods where Fido becomes dinner as the rest of the pack joins the banquet. However, a coyote’s diet usually consists mainly of small animals like mice, rats, rabbits, fish, frogs, and snakes. But they also consume berries, corn, and fruit.
To my knowledge there is no record of coyote attacks on humans in East Texas. However, in Southern California, there have been attacks on joggers and small children. Like many wild animals that become too familiar with humans, coyotes lose their natural fear, and a running person, particularly a small one, may be viewed as food. Years ago, when we lived in California I saw coyotes sitting on a city street howling at a streetlight.
Coyotes yelp, yodel, and holler to keep in contact with their group, tell other roving bands where they are, and help them decide whether the neighborhood is just “gittin’ too crowded.” A siren or train whistle will often trigger a coyote choir and often domestic dogs will chime in too.
Related to wolves and dogs, their scientific name, Canis latrans, means “barking dog.” They breed in January and February, sometimes mating with domestic dogs. The offspring of these mixed marriages are called “coydogs.” Three to twelve pups can be in a litter with the average of about six. The little ones usually stay with Mom until the following fall, but some hang around as long as two years – sort of like some kids who just can’t cut the apron strings and are still living with their parents into adulthood. Then they head out on their own and establish territory five or ten miles away.
Coyotes have been common from ancient times and abound in Native American tales where “Coyote” is cast as a philosopher, a mischievous clown, or an evil trickster whose adventures include stealing food from honest folks. The Aztecs called them coyotl, meaning “holes” (where they spend the first part of their lives), and whether you call them KI-oats or ki-OH-tees (my preferred pronunciation), we certainly have plenty of them here in Deep East Texas, where population estimates run as high as 15,000!
Some folks shoot coyotes on sight. I don’t. Old Man Coyote’s call of the wild is part of nature’s symphony in the fields and forests of East Texas and frankly, I enjoy their performances. Besides, population control is seldom very successful. One fellow who was no friend of these wild “barking dogs” said simply, “coyotes is like roaches – you ain’t never gonna git ‘em all.” That’s alright with me.
Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click firstname.lastname@example.org to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.