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BLANE KLEMEK OUTDOORS: Coyotes are fascinating mammals

Few species of wildlife are as successful, resilient, resourceful and intelligent as coyotes. Moreover, coyotes help control small rodent populations of mice and voles. Indeed, their predatory role in nature is vital to maintain healthy and functioning ecosystems.

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A coyote sits on a hay bale south of U.S. Highway 2 in a field off Hubbard County 45.
Pioneer file photo
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The coyote, sometimes referred to as “brush wolf” here in Minnesota, is a much-maligned creature that, in my opinion, is unwarranted.

Few species of wildlife are as successful, resilient, resourceful and intelligent as coyotes. Moreover, coyotes help control small rodent populations of mice and voles. Indeed, their predatory role in nature is vital to maintain healthy and functioning ecosystems.

Hardly a night goes by where I live southwest of Bemidji near the Becida community that I don’t hear the pack of resident coyotes vocalizing in the fields and forests. Likely a family unit of adults and pups, the coyote chorus is a cacophony of calls that are unlike any other animal vocalizations.

A mix of yelps, barks, cries, howls, whines, and yips and yaps, I’m always drawn to coyote music whenever and wherever I hear it. In fact, some people call coyotes, “song dogs.”

Just recently while elk hunting in the Colorado Rockies, I was delighted by the varied songs of coyotes echoing from mountain slopes. It’s interesting to note that geography plays a role in coyote dialect, in that the Colorado coyotes sound slightly different than those here at home.

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Not by a lot, mind you, but it’s always evident to me that coyotes of the West that are separated by a thousand miles from their Northwoods cousins have “accents.”

Coyotes are found nearly everywhere in North America, including Minnesota, but are less abundant in the heavily forested northeast and Arrowhead regions of the state where their larger cousin, the eastern timber wolf, also called gray wolf, is more plentiful. In situations where both wolves and coyotes exist, wolves tend to displace coyotes to a degree.

But in nearly every other conceivable habitat — from farm and lake country to river bottomlands and prairie grasslands and mountainous retreats — the coyote lives, hunts, breeds and raises their offspring, often without any of us really knowing there are very many around, if at all.

Save for the rare glimpse of a lone coyote in broad daylight, or the howling of family packs after the sun has set, coyotes are relatively low-key, shy and reclusive animals.

Of the four species of Minnesota’s wild canids, coyotes are second only to the gray wolf in size. The smaller relatives of the coyote, which includes both the red fox and gray fox, are also numerous in Minnesota (swift foxes are smaller still, but are no longer found in Minnesota).

While some exceptional male coyotes can obtain weights of 50 pounds, most male coyotes in Minnesota average around 30 pounds while females average around 25 pounds. The animal is about 20 inches high at the shoulder and averages about three and a half feet in total length, including its long and bushy tail.

The gray pelage coloration of coyotes does not vary much from individual to individual. Whereas the coats of timber wolves range from white to black, in addition to the typical grayish coat of most timber wolves, coyotes tend to look the same throughout their range.

Somewhat shaggy in appearance, especially during the winter, coyotes are often thought of as resembling small German shepherd dogs. Coyotes also have white bellies and white throats. Their fur is truly luxuriant, prized by hunters and trappers alike. Coyote fur is frequently used to trip the hoods of some coats.

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Not long from now, usually beginning by January through February, coyotes breed and begin preparing to raise their young. Born blind and helpless by April often inside underground dens, coyote pups are taken care of by mostly the female.

Coyote mothers begin teaching their offspring how to hunt by the time the pups reach 2-3 months of age. And when the youngsters are a little less than a year old, they leave their natal den for good.

Preying on mostly small rodents and rabbits and hares, coyotes are also adept at killing larger prey such as deer. Unfortunately, for both coyotes and people, coyotes sometimes kill domestic livestock like sheep, goats and calves.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, a recent study showed that coyotes prey on feral cats (all the more reason for people to keep their cats indoors).

The coyote or brush wolf or song dog, what have you, commonly referred to as “cunning,” is a predator capable of going virtually undetected practically right under our noses.

A Minnesota native, wild and free, coyotes are fascinating mammals as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Blane Klemek is a Minnesota DNR wildlife manager. He can be reached at bklemek@yahoo.com.

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Related Topics: BLANE KLEMEKNORTHLAND OUTDOORSOUTDOORS RECREATION
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