Nature Nearby: My Dogs Met Up With a Coyote on New Year’s Day
- Nature Nearby is written by Naturalist Valerie Blaine, nature programs manager for the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is Part 1 of a two-part series on coyotes in Kane.
Just before dawn on New Year’s morning, I let my dogs outside and shuffled to the kitchen, half-asleep, to make coffee. No sooner had I ground the beans than a fury of barking started outside. The tone and tenor of the barks told me that this wasn’t just morning playfulness; something serious was going on.
Running to the window, I looked out back. Barely discernible in the dim light was the silhouette of a coyote in a face-off with one of my dogs.
A 4-foot high chain link fence was between them. My older, larger dog was keeping a distance behind the confrontation. The stance of all three dogs was antagonistic. Hackles were raised, barking was fierce. Knowing full well that a fence doesn’t stop a determined coyote, I raced to bring my dogs inside. Losing a dog (or two) to a coyote would not have been a good way to ring in the new year.
I’ve written a lot about coyotes over the years. I’ve hung out with wildlife biologists, trappers and hunters, and I’ve followed coyote tracks in the field. So, this New Year’s morning scene came as no surprise.
Surprise is a common response when people see a coyote. Many people have no idea that these predators are in our midst, winter, summer, spring and fall. My New Year’s brush with Wile E. Coyote was a good reminder for me, and it seems a good time for a refresher column for everyone who lives in coyote territory.
Knowing a bit about coyote behavior and ecology will help us co-exist with these creatures who, by all accounts, are here to stay. In my next column, I’ll delve a little deeper into the life habits and ecological role of the coyote.
Emotions run high with pets — and I would have been extremely upset had one of my dogs been killed by that coyote on New Year’s morning. The lesson for me — for all of us — is to be vigilant with our pets, and to avoid situations in which we might have a negative interaction with native predators.
First and foremost: Do not leave food out, any time, anywhere. (I don’t.) Especially important is to feed your pets inside. (I do.) Be extra vigilant about fences. (Note to self: Build higher fence.) Coyotes are agile and can climb if they want to. If you have an electric fence, your dog is vulnerable to anything that might come in the yard, whether it’s a coyote or neighbor’s dog.
As a species, coyotes have proven to be quick learners. They watch us, they know our habits, and they can figure out our behavior. For example, if you put cat food out every morning at 8 a.m., the coyotes in the neighborhood will know that. And, they will come to expect it. This is called being habituated. Coyotes habituated to easy food become the problem coyotes that so often make the news.
Respect the coyote as part of the overall wildlife community. Chances are that you’ll catch a glimpse of one in the next month. If we’re all careful, we can let the ‘yotes do their thing patrolling the fields and avoid unnecessary conflict.
- FEATURE PHOTO: A coyote close-up. CREDIT: Valerie Blaine