Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Coyotes on the Cape

Coyotes have been spreading eastward, appearing on Cape Cod about 25 years ago.  Now they are common throughout the country, often living right under the nose of urban residents.  For example, wildlife experts estimate there are over 2,000 living in Chicago, even downtown.

Coyotes are common in many parts of the Cape.  They are often sighted in nearby Nickerson State Park.  Although I haven't heard coyotes "singing" at Hawksnest, no doubt they are already there.  If present, coyotes probably keep a low profile because of the large number of dogs visiting Hawksnest.

In March of this year, coyotes attacked dogs several times in the Mill Pond area of Orleans.  These attacks may have involved rabid coyotes, since coyotes usually avoid dogs as large as the ones attacked.

But there are other reasons why coyotes attack dogs:  It may be for food (in the case of small dogs), or because coyotes see dogs as a threat to their territory or to their young.   The possibility of your pet being attacked by a coyote is one reason for keeping your dog on leash at Hawsknest, as required by park rules.

Healthy coyotes are extremely wary of humans--but attacks on humans have occurred in Cape Cod, and recently in a New York suburb.  There was a fatal attack last year on a woman in Canada.

Don't worry--attacks on humans are extremely rare.  The few that do occur are the inevitable result of large numbers of people and coyotes living close to one another.  Your chances of you or your pet being injured by a dog are far greater.

The Coywolf

Now that I've put your mind at rest--here's some unexpected news.  The coyotes on Cape Cod (and elsewhere in the Northeast) are actually wolf-coyote hybrids.  That explains why coyotes in northeastern states are larger than the coyotes out west, where they originated.  The adults on Cape Cod weigh 30-40 pounds.

Jonathan Way and three other wildlife biologists studied coyotes trapped "in and around" Barnstable, and near Boston.  Their conclusions about wolf-coyote hybrids are based on studies of DNA from the animals.  They think that as the coyotes spread eastward through Canada, they interbred with the Eastern Wolves found there.

Other interesting conclusions from the study
  • Although coyotes do interbreed with dogs in the western US, they don't in the Northeastern states.
  • "Coyote social groups...are made up of family groups.... Offspring typically remain with their parents anywhere from 6 months to about 2 years of age before dispersing to new areas.... "
  • "Typically 3–5 adults live together in a territorial pack...." The advantages of living in packs are better success in hunting large prey (like deer), better defense of the territory, improved survivability of pups, and preventing theft of prey already killed.  The packs typically consist of a breeding pair, plus a few related animals.
  • These "coywolves" seem to prefer prey more typical of coyotes than wolves.  Wolves prey almost entirely on deer, whereas the hybrids eat anything from deer to rabbits to small rodents, not to mention pets, pet food left outside, and garbage.
  • They travel long distances (10-15 miles a day), so the coyotes from Orleans could easily visit Hawksnest.
Precautions
  • If you live near woods, don't leave small children or small pets outdoors alone.
  • Keep your dog on leash when in the woods.
  • Don't leave pet food outdoors; keep garbage cans covered.
  • Just use common sense.
More links

New York Times review article on coyotes
More advice about living with coyotes
Coyotes--Never out of sight, or mind (excellent essay)
Eastern coyote/coywolf web page
The Coyote Wars on Cape Cod (an essay)
Purchase Suburban Howls--a book by Jonathan Way
Animal attack files

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Walk in the Hawksnest Woods with commentary

Saturday, September 25, 10:00 am:

A Walk in the Hawksnest Woods with commentary.
Join veteran walk leader Irwin Schorr as he interprets the six ponds area.

This is one of the free, Guided Fall Walks, organized by the Harwich Conservation Trust

Directions

From Route 6, Exit 11, go west on Spruce Rd.
Park on the shoulder of Spruce Rd. near the intersection with Hawksnest Rd. (not marked).

Map