Sun 28 Sep 2008
On more than a few nights, I’ve heard coyotes around my cabin, for they typically hunt in pairs, howling and yipping back and forth to keep track of where the other one is. I’ve seen coyotes in the Point Reyes National Seashore, as well as beside Nicasio Reservoir and on Highway 1 near Campolindo Way in Point Reyes Station.
Last Thursday, however, was the first time I managed to not only see but photograph a coyote close to the house.
As it happened, last Thursday I drove Seeva Cherms, daughter of Linda Sturdivant of Inverness Park, to Novato and back. As we pulled up to my cabin upon our return, Seeva spotted an animal lying in the grass just uphill from where I was parking.
“Look!,” she exclaimed. “There’s a coyote!” Because it was still bright daylight, I was initially skeptical. From its color, it could have been a deer, but when the coyote stood up, there was no mistaking it.
Luckily I had my camera in the car, and as I took it out, the coyote began ambling uphill slowly, giving me a chance to shoot several photos.
There were no coyotes in West Marin for 40 years because of poisoning by sheep ranchers in northwest Marin and southern Sonoma counties. However, coyotes never disappeared from northern Sonoma County, and after the Nixon Administration banned the poison 10-80, they started spreading south and showed up here again in 1983.
Since then, coyotes have put an end to well over half the sheep ranching around Marshall, Tomales, Dillon Beach, and Valley Ford.
Coyotes, which evolved in North America two million years ago, can now be found from Alaska to Panama. In fact, their name in English is derived from coyotl, which was given to them by the Nahuatl tribe of central Mexico.
Northern coyotes are the largest, weighing up to 75 pounds and measuring more than five feet long. Coyotes have been clocked at just under 45 mph while chasing prey and can jump almost 15 feet while on the run. Interestingly, coyotes — like domestic dogs — have sweat glands on the pads of their paws. Wolves don’t. (Nor do New England coyotes, which are bigger than the coyotes around here and whose ancestry is presumed to be part wolf.)
Unlike many predators, coyotes have actually benefited from the European settlement of North America. Most significantly, the white man eliminated many of the wolves that prey on coyotes. A brief clip from the National Geographic Channel of a wolf-coyote encounter (with a happy ending) can be seen by clicking here.
Modern society has also encouraged the spread of coyotes by providing them with food sources ranging from abundant garbage to small pets. As a result, coyotes live longer in suburban and urban areas than they do in the wilds, according to a study conducted from 2000 to 2007 by Ohio State University researchers.
The researchers determined that roughly 2,000 coyotes live in the Chicago metropolitan area alone and concluded comparable populations could be found at other US cities. Two years ago, in fact, a coyote was captured in Manhattan’s Central Park.
Other than rifle-toting sheep ranchers, mountain lions are the only significant threats to coyotes in West Marin, and in the wild, coyotes can live up to 10 years.
While coyotes have been known to mate with wolves, their more common inter-species dalliances are with domestic dogs. Indeed, not too long ago, various people walking female dogs near Abbott’s Lagoon were horrified when they spotted a male coyote heading toward their pet — only to discover the guy wanted to get it on with Lassie, not devour her.