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Enjoying Your Local Coyotes (or Coywolves)

stealth cam coyoteMy family in Illinois shares theories and gossip about the resident coyotes. Living in New York, I miss out. So I wanted to contribute to the family pastime when I visited over Christmas. The new tools this year: a game camera and Suburban Howls from John Way of the Eastern Coyote Research. The camera is great to see what’s going on at night, but Way’s book was exactly what we need to figure out what was going on.

My sister Mary Ann has been tracking these coyotes–really coywolfs–the longest. Like many animal-watchers, she gives them names based on their appearance or behavior, such as Fluffy, with the thick coat. Fluffy had pups this spring and in the fall a friend found the den in a thicket.

Last year I got Mary Ann a motion-activated camera designed for hunters, which she more or less ignored. Ok, she claims to have put it out but got nothing but raccoon pictures. We could see in the snow that two compost mounds were clearly high-value real estate in coyote-world. They had tons of tracks and pee. We set the camera there and got a picture the first night.

But without some knowledge of coyote world, we didn’t know how to explain what was going on. That’s where we really need Suburban Howls. Way does a great job of synthesizing the body of knowledge on eastern coyotes or coywolves and describing his own research and findings. We had theorized the coywolves liked the mounds either because the composting made them warm or because rodents lived inside. But Way describes how coyotes use little hills to keep a look-out.

My sister showed me the den, but we didn’t see any tracks going in. Way explained that coyotes only use it for raising puppies. Otherwise they have rendezvous points, little meet-up spots, preferably in secluded woods.

coyote yawns on lake zurich
One day we saw a coyote lying dead on a highway about 6 miles away. Our first hope was that it was too far for the family pack. But Way found coyotes his adult coyotes moved “at least 10 miles a night” and occasionally even 25 miles.  But it turned out it probably wasn’t one of the resident coyotes, or at least there were at least two left.

We got only tiny glimpses of our coyotes–either unsuccessfully looking for lunch on the frozen lake or sniffing around these mounds at night. But thanks to the book, we learned the basics of their family life, how pups either become helpers, staying around to raise the next litter; dispersers, taking off on their own; or “slouchers,” those that stick around but don’t help.

We’re still learning about the local pack. After years of frustrating ignorance, Way gave us a hint of what’s going on and a chance to see what it’s like to track them seriously. He tells stories of tracking one coyote to near the Boston Garden and walking in on one that looked dead in winter snow, but turned out to be three canines sleeping on top of each other. He’s also an inspiring advocate for people who just want to watch wild animals in a management geared almost exclusively towards hunters. I was going to give the book to my family to keep, but I like it so much I’m keeping it and getting them their own copy.

Read an interview with John Way

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