Wednesday night when I took Zeke and Lucy out for their next-to-last walk of the evening, I saw two ghostly shapes down in the front of the yard. Zeke saw, smelled or heard them right after I did, and unleashed an unholy uproar of barking and lunging. Leah said Sam was inside pacing and whining as this was going on.
They were coyotes. I wasn’t too surprised that they were there, but I was surprised that they didn’t immediately run away. Zeke continued to bark and lunge. I was barely able to keep him from breaking loose from my grip or pulling me off my feet. Still the coyotes didn’t run.
Ordinarily I would have dragged Zeke back up to the house but this time I wanted to scare the coyotes away. It didn’t work. They paced back and forth staring, but didn’t retreat, even when Zeke managed to drag me 20 or 30 feet down the driveway towards them.
After about five minutes I gave up and pulled Zeke back up to the house. I got a big flashlight and a sturdy stick about four feet long, just in case, and then I went back outside. The coyotes were still there, watching. I advanced on them, shouting, “Get!” which I doubt they understood. I did expect them to figure out the meaning from my tone of voice.
They did finally retreat into the woods at the side of the yard, staying just out of sight. I banged the stick against a few trees, and I could hear them running around. Despite what you might think, wild animals make a lot of noise thrashing through the dead leaves on the forest floor.
I went back to the middle of the yard and shined the flashlight into the woods. I could see the coyotes’ eyes reflecting back at me. They circled around to the front of the yard where there is a narrow border of trees between the open yard and the road, and there they stayed. I gave up and went back inside.
It was too dark to take photos, and they were too far away for a flash to work. I might have been able to finesse it given time and a lot of cooperation from the coyotes, but that was not going to happen.
In my admittedly limited experience, coyotes do not stay around when humans appear. The first time I saw a coyote around the mountain was when I walked Zeke into the woods at the top of the mountain and let him run free. He disappeared down the side of the mountain for a while, and then came back up running side by side with a coyote. When the coyote saw me, he immediately turned and fled.
Another time I saw a coyote on Fouche Gap Road ahead of me and the dogs as we walked down into Texas Valley. It also quickly disappeared when it saw me. The next most recent time was about a month ago when I saw one running across Lavender Trail near the bottom of our driveway. It glanced at me and kept going.
One reason a coyote might not flee a human is rabies. Early this month a coyote attacked and bit a runner near Atlanta. According to news reports, the coyote tested positive for rabies. How did they catch it? The runner grabbed it and held it down until the police arrived.
I was pretty sure the two I saw in our front yard weren’t rabid. There were two of them, which I assume would be unusual if one or both were rabid, and they didn’t appear aggressive, only somewhat unsettled but hesitant to leave. My suspicion is that they have a den nearby, possibly in our front yard. There is a pile of trees left from when the building site was cleared, and I have seen (from a distance) a dark area that might be a recess or an opening into the pile. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says that coyotes den in excavated holes or brush piles. One night a month or so ago I noticed two eyes reflecting back from the woodline at the front of the yard. I couldn’t tell whether it was a fox or a coyote, but now I suspect that it was one of the two I saw Wednesday night.
Coyotes are not native to Georgia. I never saw or heard, or even heard of a coyote when I was growing up, and we roamed the woods a lot. It has been only relatively recently that they began showing up, probably around the same time that armadillos began showing up as roadside kill here. According to the DNR, coyotes are filling an ecological niche left vacant when humans killed off the native red wolf. People, especially natural-world-challenged city people, are typically afraid of coyotes when they see them. They often panic and call the police. That usually leads to having some kind of animal control official trap and kill the coyote.
Since coyotes are not a native species in Georgia, there is no closed hunting season on coyotes. Lately the state has been encouraging hunters to kill as many coyotes as they can by offering a drawing for a lifetime license. The official entry is a coyote carcass. The reason for this is to try to increase the number of deer available for hunting in the state, although it does not seem that the deer population is threatened by coyote predation. In fact, according to the DNR, the deer population in Georgia is about 1.2 million. The DNR also says, “… deer densities in some localized areas have the potential to inflect significant damage to forestry, agricultural or horticultural crops, home gardens, and shrubbery.”
I have mixed feelings about coyotes raising a litter in our front yard. I actually like having coyotes around, just like foxes, deer, raccoons (not eating cat food), possums (not eating cat food), and other wildlife. It would be neat to see the pups in the front yard. But I don’t want to have to worry excessively about having a coyote take one of our cats, as we suspect happened with Zoe, our late white cat.
Maybe I don’t have to worry about that. Maybe they aren’t denning in our front yard. Maybe they were just thinking about it, and maybe all the commotion convinced them to move. The DNR says coyotes usually mate in late winter or early spring. That’s pretty much right now. That doesn’t give them much time to find a new home.