Nevada Wildlife – Winter, 2016
Coyote thrives throughout U.S. history Barbara McKinnon and Bob Maichle Nevada Wildlife Federation Lewis and Clark and a prairie wolf, oh my! Meriwether Lewis and William Clark left St. Louis, Louisiana Territory, on May 22, 1804, leading the Corps of Discovery up the Missouri River and into the West. Charged by President Thomas Jefferson to explore and map the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, with secondary scientific and economic objectives: to study the area’s plants, animal life, and geography, and establish trade with local Indians.
At the gateway to the Great Plains, the explorers saw huge herds of deer, elk and buffalo. The rivers and creeks were full of fat beaver and fish of many kinds. In the early evening of Aug. 12, 1804, near Council Bluffs Iowa, Clark wrote that he saw a “Prairie Woolf” (sic) appear on the bank and bark at their passing boat. Never having seen this animal in the eastern half of the United States, the explorers went ashore to harvest him. They were not successful. Although known to European trappers and traders along the Missouri River, Lewis and Clark were the first Americans to see a coyote, and the first Americans to fail in their attempt to kill one. (Ambrose, 1996).
A month later, one of the hunters brought in “a small wolf with a large bushey tail,” and on the following day Clark himself killed “a prairie wolf, about the size of a gray fox, bushy tail, head and ear like a woolf.” (Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, 2015) The first scientific description published in 1823, christened him Canis latrans, the barking dog. Where do coyotes live? There were no coyotes east of the Missouri River 200 years ago. Lewis and Clark found coyotes abundant in the newly purchased Great Plains, but much more limited in the Pacific Northwest, due to less abundant prey. Coyotes also inhabited the desert southwest, where they became Americans when the former Republic of Texas was annexed to the United States in 1845. In 1846, the Oregon Territory was acquired, and coyotes in the Pacific Northwest became Americans. In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo made Americans of coyotes in California, Nevada, and most of Utah and Arizona.
Once forced to share the predator playing field with wolves, as the human population moved west and increased, wolves were virtually wiped out, and coyotes filled the void. Rodents that multiplied around human settlements, farms and ranches, provided plenty of their favorite food. Today, coyotes remain the dominant terrestrial predators from coast to coast and from Central America to central Alaska, except in areas around Yellowstone National Park, where wolves have been reintroduced. Elsewhere, coyotes have practically no competition from the lower carnivores, and they continue to thrive despite some significant eradication efforts.
Coyotes are not limited to rural areas, but also live in urban centers like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Reno, especially where housing abuts the undeveloped areas. National Wildlife Federation estimates from 1 million to 10 million coyotes live in cities (NWF, 2006). Think: Summerlin, Mountains Edge, Aliante, and Anthem, in southern Nevada. How to spot a coyote The biological family Canidae includes the gray wolf (Canis lupus), domestic dog (Canis lupus familiaris), and foxes such as the red fox (Vulpes vulpes. A Coyote is about one-third the size of a wolf, and about that much larger than a fox. The coyote resembles a small German shepherd dog.
About 24 inches tall at the shoulder, from nose to tail, a coyote is about 4 feet long. His coat is predominantly gray, changing to tan along the belly, legs, muzzle and ears. It is larger and darker in cooler climates. In the Mojave Desert, Coyotes average about 20 pounds, and can exhibit more “red rocks” coloration. Coyotes are one of 161 mammal species that call Nevada home. Life in the wild Coyotes are social animals, and live in small, loose groups, with one dominant male and female. Communication helps coyotes to maintain their social structure. Their calls have been characterized as barking, yelping and howls. Coyotes form strong family groups. In spring, females den and give birth to litters of three to 12 pups. Both parents feed and protect their young and their territory. The pups are able to hunt on their own by the following fall. What do coyotes Eat? Nevada Department of Wildlife estimates about 250,000 to 750,000 coyotes live in Nevada.
Coyotes can be extremely useful for controlling rodent populations, their preferred food. Coyotes prefer rodents, but they eat what is available, including rabbits and carrion. In some areas, coyote diet includes insects and may include up to 40 percent plant material, such as flowers, grass, fruits and seeds. This omnivore appetite is one of the reasons they can live in such diverse habitat. Deer and antelope fawns are occasionally taken. Coyotes in urban areas forage at landfills and raid garbage. And, coyotes have been known to kill domestic dogs and cats. Coyotes have been known to prey on cattle, poultry and sheep, especially in the West.
Since they are so numerous in Nevada, they are not protected, monitored or managed. Hunting does not require a license, but trapping does. Coyote-human interactions, keep yours positive Like all wild animals, coyotes need food, water and shelter. Golf courses provide all three. With names like Coyote Springs, Coyote Moon, Coyote Willows and Coyote Run, lush plants and water features lure small animals and birds out of the adjacent desert to urban golf courses. Rabbits and other rodents such as gophers are considered pests by some golf course managers. Their predators, including coyotes, are not far behind. Especially near urban areas, coyotes become easily habituated to humans, and when you meet on the hiking trail, he may be as curious about you, as you are about him. But never try to pet or feed them.
Remember they are wild animals. By making loud noises, waving your hands or objects like a stick or golf club, you can frighten them away. Never try to corner a coyote (if you find one in your garage, for example); give him plenty of room to get away. Coyotes have never attacked people (of any size) in Nevada. If you see coyote acting aggressively toward humans, however, report it to your home-owner’s association, animal control or Nevada Department of Wildlife. If you meet a coyote head on, don’t bend over to pick up a small child or pet. Back, don’t run away, because that may trigger his predator instinct. Give coyotes room to walk away at home, do not leave pet food, bird and squirrel food, or garbage accessible outdoors.
If coyotes are visiting around your homes, they are finding something they like to eat. Bring pet dishes inside immediately after your pet has stopped eating. Don’t leave hiding places in your yard, such as firewood piles and shaggy shrubs. Deer motion and noise “scare” devices are generally not effective, and can be triggered by pets and other wildlife. Supervise your pets when outside. Walk pets on a short leash. Bring them in at night. Coyotes attack and kill small pets. Provide secure enclosures for rabbits, chickens and other outdoor livestock. Source: Wikipedia Modern distribution of coyote sub-species. Gray Wolf, Coyote, and Red Fox. Source: Yellowstone National Park Service. Source: Niebrugge Coyotes prefer eating rodents, but will eat whatever is available. A coyote walks away.