A little on the wild side

The excitement in her voice was palatable as she approached, a neighbor indeed but not, regrettably, one I knew at all well.

I no longer recall the exact words of that conversation. I’m betting it was more than a year ago, possibly much longer. (Days nowadays have an annoying habit of flitting by much too quickly.) That said, I never forgot her promise. She had taken photographs of a coyote family — lots of youngsters — at the edge of my driveway.

My timing couldn’t have been worse for my request reached Tammy in the midst of awful personal turmoil and yet, within days, her pictures were in my hand.

She apologized for the quality — taken, she said, with an old cellphone. I admit my heart sank when I saw them for, at first glance, they could have been of any object in the road: reddish birds come to mind. I tried to enlarge the best of the three and could make out only one larger four-legged animal and, most likely, four smaller “blobs” with the possibility of one more off to the far side of the road.

“Coyotes,” she said, and I have no reason whatsoever to doubt it. I hear them often enough, have one sharp picture of one crossing the ice, and know how often they disturb another neighbor. (And I’m always good about keeping my dog in late at night. I heard in gory detail from a veterinarian who told what a pack had done to a dog he treated — successfully, though the putting-back-together was a time-consuming ordeal.)

As with any of the wild animals who share my domain, I will respect the coyote as long as it leaves me and my loved ones alone. (I was told once about a man who walked these roads always carrying a large stick in case he was attacked by one, or many. Perhaps he’s wiser than I but I’m not fearful on my treks, wishing instead I were lucky enough while driving to come across a family nearby.)

A coyote normally weighs between 20 and 40 pounds with some possibly reaching 55. They can “cruise” at 25 or 30 mph, getting up to 40 for short times and can leap a good fourteen feet. It takes no imagination to imagine what a danger a pack would be.

The Audubon Field Guide says they usually hunt alone, though may join others to tire the quarry in a relay or wait in ambush while others chase the prey in its direction. There aren’t many kinds of meat it won’t eat, as well as carrion from deer and even fruit if it can be found. It is also a remarkable swimmer.

Coyotes may pair up for a number of years or even a lifetime but it’s just the female who digs her den and protects the pups, even moving them all to a new site if the original den is disturbed. These nurseries, however, are not permanent abodes. A litter of one to nineteen is born in April or May, so my count was right on.

A coyote leaves a footprint like that of a dog: front heel-pads make a clear imprint while those in the back show only faintly, if at all. Only four of its five toes show with the front wider than the hind feet.

While a fox is smaller a wolf can be about the same size or a bit larger than a coyote, but a wolf runs with its tail held high while the coyote’s is down close to his legs when he runs.

Preferring to be out at night, they can be seen at any time. It is at night, dawn or dusk, however, when we are most likely to hear their eerie serenade: “a series of barks and yelps, followed by a prolonged howl and ending with short, sharp yaps.” One call usually gets others to join in, a method of location if they become separated.

I do enjoy hearing them — as long as I and my animals are safe inside.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” following in 2014. Information on all the Musings, her books and the author may be found at Susancrossett.com.