Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Conversation With Coyotes

I walked the lane from our home, almost a quarter mile to the gate that opens on the pasture closest to the house and peed on the gate posts.  Then I walked along the fence line to the gate that leads to the next field above the house and peed some more.  I was leaving a statement for the coyote pack that counts our farm as their territory.  Don't cross this line. This is mine.

That's what I did as we put our first batch of 50 pastured chickens into pens on the pasture.  And we had no trouble from coyotes.  But when we put our second batch of 50 on the pasture, we lost them all.

Coyotes aren't native to PEI. Like us, they are CFA's (Come From Away's) who are variously accepted, tolerated, hunted and trapped.  We know there is a an active pack in our neighborhood.  They make themselves known on a regular basis in an interesting variety of ways.  Coyote is a sensible dog.  In native lore he is, "The Trickster". He is part fool, part shape-shifter, part devil.

When the pack is in our area, it moves, not in a bunch, but as a picket line through the woods.  Rabbits and ground animals beware,  if coyote flushes you from cover, the pack will finish you and a wild celebration of howling will mark victory.  About 4:00 AM some days ago I heard a scream that sounded like a child in pain in the woods.  It was followed by the celebratory yip and howl of a coyote who had just taken down a good sized rabbit.  My dog, Annie heard it too.  If you've ever heard a rabbit scream, you know what I'm talking about.          

In the days that followed all was quiet.

Then, last night there was the sharp yip and howl of a lone voice just behind the house in the woods. It was an announcement. "I Am HERE!"   But "here" was a little too close for me.  So I walked into the dark and gave a series of deep throated barks at intervals.  As I moved up to the tree line I pinpointed it's position.  Coyote shouted back.  Now not so certain and then giving ground back into the field behind the trees.
We never saw each other.  But communication was being made and it was plain enough. I was saying,
"STAY AWAY!" And he backed off.

After quiet was restored, I went back into the house and went to bed.  About 20 minutes later, I was paged through the closed windows of my room by a faint high wailing that sounded like a cell phone in my sleepy state.  I got up to open the window and heard coyote's latest broadcast now very close to the edge of our field.  I barked back which set my dogs into a few minutes of growling and boof-ing at the intruder. Then we all settled down and the night was quiet again.

Last summer, I read Farley Mowat's 1963 book, "Never Cry Wolf". He details his experiences living with  and observing a wild wolf pack in the far north.  He learned the rules that determine the territory of the hunting wolf packs and observed the disciplined social behavior that guarantees survival of hunting groups and preserves peace between them.  It was his book that encouraged me to take the initiative of communicating with my wild canine neighbors by marking my boundries.

I have two dogs.  I love dogs. And I understand dogs.  The canine in the wild is not the babied simpleton we raise as pets.  It is a canny, wild hunter.  It belongs to a society that has rules and it understands a lot about its environment. And I'm convinced, after thousands of years of proximity with man,  it knows exactly who we are.

This morning I walked the lane from our home almost a quarter mile to the gate that opens on to the pasture closest to the house.  I was getting ready to move the horses out to graze when I saw a little green tootsie roll on the ground in the gate way.  Right on the line I had peed last summer. It was a message from coyote.

We knew coyote in suburban southern California.  He would come out of the fog draped foothills to patrol the empty streets before dawn with a scornful swagger surfing for cats and backyard bowls of free dog food. But here on PEI this local wild dog had left me a note full of animal protein, fur and slim white bones. And the message was, "Chill out man! I know where your boundry is! No need for threats, bro."        
We lost our second batch of 50 chickens on the morning we were planning to take them to be processed.
Something tore through the poultry wire and tore up the the backs of the birds between their wings (a relatively small bite mark), leaving them dead and dying on the ground - but none were taken or eaten. We never knew what got them and I didn't find clear tracks.  But the holes in the wire, the size of the holes, the size of the bite marks and the fact that the birds weren't killed for food told me it was probably raccoons that did it.

Coyote is a trickster. And he's a hunter. But the message he left me said that he's well fed on wild game. He knows where I've marked my ground. And he assumes that he's free to hunt the wild hare that would destroy my garden if the population was left un-challenged.

I have to agree. Even so, this evening I walked the lane from our home up into the fields and "refreshed" my marks.  I offered a howl into the woods that went unanswered.  And I went home satisfied that I had answered coyote for tonight.


Rob said...

Great post John

doglady said...

And remember in Never Cry Wolf, it didn't take the wolves very long to undo all the marking work a number of cups of tea made possible. With that said, I would suggest an intact male dog to mark the property. All of my neighbors have been having issues with our resident coyote packs but I have not. I attribute that to my intact male German Shepherds messages to them. My neighbors have neutered dogs.

John Quimby said...

Hi doglady,
Welcome and thanks for dropping by.
Good points.

We have had no coyote issues...but I attribute that to being careful about protecting our animals, staying alert and paying attention to the movement of the pack.

Thanks for your comment.