HOWLING

This was inspired by our first camp out at Thornwood Preserve. During the night, owls were hooting, we were treated to a raccoon fight, and off in the distance coyotes were heard. This is something that I haven’t heard since I lived out west.

This got me to thinking (always dangerous). What about the coyotes in Indiana and what does the average person know about them?

Coyotes were once native to the western prairie regions of northwest Indiana, while the wolves inhabited the forest areas. When the wolves were driven out, coyotes began to expand eastward. The 1970s brought increased reports statewide. They are now common in all Indiana counties.

All you have to give a coyote is water and shelter, and they will find the food. While they eat a variety of food, such as berries, birds, vegetation, rabbits, fawns and animal remains, they eat mainly mice, moles and voles. So they do help reduce the local rodent populations.

Urban area coyotes will add garbage, garden vegetables, domestic animals and pet food to this list. In short they are opportunistic foragers and will eat anything that has nutritional value.

Coyotes are slightly smaller than a standard collie dog. They have a long slender snout, pointed ears and long legs. Their color is a grizzled gray or a buff color, with its underside being a white cream or reddish yellow color. They have a bushy tail, which is carried below the level of the back.

They will weigh an average of 30 pounds and are up to 50 inches long. They may mate for life. The pups are born in March or April and a litter can be from one to 10 pups, with the average being five.

Coyote dens are usually in a bank or hillside having an entrance hole about the size of a pie pan. Both parents feed the young and teach them to hunt. By the time fall arrives, the pups are almost fully grown and ready to be on their own.

As with most wild animals, the more food that is available the more their population will expand.

There also is a conflict with other wild animals, such as the red fox. These two compete for the same food, and coyotes will rid the areas of the fox. Coyotes and dogs can breed, but it is rare due to the small time frame that coyotes breed. If they do breed, chances are good that the pups will not survive.

The conflict revolves around several items. In urban areas attacks on pets, safety and fear of the unknown prevail; in rural areas, livestock and pet loss along with a trail camera picture showing a fawn being carried away can be upsetting.

Curbing their numbers is a challenge: trapping, shooting and other methods have a high cost and short-term results. In a small area they can be lowered with focused effort but will bounce back once the effort is reduced or stopped. When the numbers get lower they breed younger and have larger litters.

Indiana does have a hunting season for coyotes. This time it’s Oct. 15 to Feb. 28, 2016, with no limit. Landowners are able to remove them on their own land without a permit, or they can give written permission to others to remove them from their land.

Want to know how to tell a dog track from a coyote track? Pretty simple: The coyote paw print will show the front claws while a dog’s track will show all four.

Meanwhile other wild animals are making a comeback. Bald eagles at last count Indiana had about 243. White-tailed deer, once almost gone, have rebounded. Wild turkeys were reintroduced in the 1950s and are now found in almost every county. Peregrine falcons disappeared in the early 1900s, were reintroduced in 1991 in Indianapolis and are starting a comeback. For river otters, from 1995 to 2000, 300 were released, they are now in 80 of the 92 counties. Bobcats are on the rise, with at least 1,000, mostly in the southern part of the state. Perhaps we’ll talk about them in the future.

Joe Whitfield is a naturalist and gardener for the Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.