by Barbara Walvoord
Originally published in Lathrop Lamp Post, Aug. 3, 2017.
Summer music camps for kids are in full swing now, and Tanglewood is featuring its Young Concert Artists’ Series. At Lathrop, our coyote youngsters are also starting to perform in evening or pre-dawn concerts.
The young performers will have been born in April or May, in a burrow dug by their mother under a fallen tree or in a thicket. The den might be up to 15 feet deep and a foot or two wide. Careful moms will have made several dens so the kids can be moved from one to the other to avoid detection and keep down parasites. Not a bad excavation achievement for a critter weighing 20 or 30 pounds, with only her feet as tools.
The youngsters have emerged from the den by now, and as their young bodies grow, mom is increasingly busy hunting to feed them. She’ll take a wide variety of food–mice, rats, gophers, rabbits, squirrels, snakes, lizards, frogs, fish, birds, and carrion, as well as grass, fruits, and berries. She’ll also snatch your cat if it’s loose, so Lathrop’s rule that cats need to be on leash is a good protection.
Early on, Mom will have fed her babies regurgitated food, but later they learn to eat raw food she brings, and then to hunt their own food, starting with grasshoppers, as they learn the pouncing method of hunting. Later, they’ll learn the throat-grab method, used for larger animals, and they’ll learn to work with the rest of the pack in a relay strategy to bring down running prey. Coyotes almost never attack humans, so you don’t have to be afraid of meeting them.
The youngsters have to learn to use their voices, too. For short-distance threats, use woofs and growls. For long-distance threats, use barks and bark-howls. When greeting another coyote, use a polite whine. When members of the group are separated, use howls to stay in touch and to communicate that food has been found. When the group reunites, greet your mates with a yip-howl.
Above all, these intelligent youngsters learn to adapt and thrive. Early native Americans revered the coyote as a smart, adaptable trickster, surviving by deception and humor. Around Christmas time, our Lathrop young adults will leave their mom and set off on their own. Coyotes were once limited to the western U.S., but moved to the east as well; once limited to wild places, but now found also in urban settings. They’re good swimmers, and have recently migrated across the Panama canal.
As these youngsters prepare for adult life, we enjoy hearing their high-pitched little howls as they join the pack’s dusk and dawn concerts.