03 February 2011


COYOTES. As humans have steadily encroached upon or destroyed native wildlife habitat, a few opportunistic species have responded by becoming part of the rural, suburban and urban landscape. House sparrows, white-tailed deer, Canada geese and raccoons thrive in the absence of their native predators, often so prolifically that they overpopulate. One surprising member of this adaptable group is the coyote. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune (thanks for the link, Bill), the Cook County Coyote Project recently reported a number of findings, including the following --

  • The coyote population has been exploding in the last 20 years in Chicago and its suburbs, and the growth is likely to continue.

  • Urban coyotes, like their rural cousins, survive mainly by eating rodents, along with deer (mainly carcasses) and fruit. They typically avoid humans and don't eat much garbage. Cats make up about 1 percent of urban coyotes' diet.

  • Coyotes have been a factor in controlling the population of Canada geese, widely considered a pest in the Chicago region .... Coyotes also help control growing numbers of deer by catching and eating fawns.

  • Coyote couples, alpha male and female, generally stay together for life.

  • Coyotes live in packs of a half-dozen related adults. Solitary coyotes without territory roam hundreds of miles looking for unclaimed land.

  • Urban coyotes live longer than their country cousins. The chief cause of death is being hit by a vehicle.

The study goes on to explain that "In the 19th century, coyotes were confined to the plains and grasslands of the West and the Southwest. As wolves and other big predators were killed off, coyotes move in. They now occupy nearly all of North America and have moved deeply into Central America. Their latest move, over the past 20 years, has been into cities and suburbs."

Coyotes occasionally kill dogs, especially smaller dogs left unattended by their owners. A little common sense goes a long way. When you see a coyote, make noise and throw things at it, to establish that this is your territory. Keep dogs on leashes or in adequately fenced yards. "While inidividual coyotes are sometimes removed through lethal means -- typically when they become too habituated to people or start taking pet dogs -- experts generally prefer educating people on peaceful coexistence."

Coyotes have been an unusual success story, stepping in to fill the predator niche vacated when humans eradicated (i.e. murdered) entire populations of native wolves, and expanding their range remarkably. I have fond memories of solitary nights spend out in the southern Arizona desert, listening to the music of coyotes howling. One of my ambitions is to live in a place where I can hear wolves howling at night -- sooner rather than later.

SOLAR SYSTEMS. NASA's Kepler spacecraft has discovered a remarkable solar system. A single sun-like star, Kepler-11, is orbited by a compact array of large planets. The entire system would fit inside the orbit of Venus -- an astonishing gravitational dance.

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