Coyotes in Clarksville

Confirmation of Coyote, Clarksville, Howard County, MD

My son Michael has been monitoring a series of trail cameras that we have set-up on our property, especially along our two streams and the primary stream valley corridor.  Late this afternoon he brought in the media cards and downloaded this week’s pictures to our hard drive.  We are aware of nine bucks and differentiate them by their racks, and we have been blessed with lots of great recent photos of turkey, raccoon, opossum, red and gray fox, but now for something completely different.  We have confirmation of coyote in our stream valley, and right in our backyard fields!

Aerial

I made this aerial map to show the location of the trail camera that captured the photos and the location where my wife and sons have been hearing the highest concentration of occasional evening howling.  My wife thought she saw a coyote a few weeks back while putting our chickens back into our enclosed pen for the evening, and now turns out she was right.  Not too long ago she saw a kangaroo in our driveway, and it turned out to be a neighbors pet wallabee that escaped, which is an entirely different story.  The bottom line is that she is credible when it comes to wildlife observation.

The six following photos were taken on Friday, November 28, 2014, the day after Thanksgiving, at around 4:30 AM along the smaller of our two streams, right near where we have a fire-pit and brush pile for burning.  I suspect that we now have a coyote or two working our stream valley as a part of their home range.  The stream valley is more or less bounded by Guilford Road on the north, Hall Shop Road on the east, Route 216 on the south and Route 108 on the west.

Mike and I have downloaded weeks of photos with many being of gray and red fox.  These photos are not fox.  This animal is definably larger and not a domestic dog.

I gleaned some of the following information from the MD DNR and Fairfax County Park Authority websites.

The eastern coyote is a member of the canid, or dog family. It is larger than its western cousin – typically attributed to wolf-coyote hybridization – and usually has one of four pelt colorations: tri-color (German shepherd-like), red, blond and dark brown (appears black at a distance).  Adult males weigh 45 to 55 pounds; females, 35 to 40 pounds.  When seeing one for the first time, many people mistake eastern coyotes for dogs.  Look for black lines running up and down the front of the front legs, yellow eyes and a cylindrical-shaped, low-hanging tail.  Adult coyotes are much larger than foxes, and they tend to travel trails, dirt roads and habitat edges.

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Coyotes are a relatively new addition to local ecosystems, and were first documented in Maryland during 1972.  Initial substantiated sightings occurred in Cecil, Frederick and Washington counties.  Since that time population densities and occupied range have expanded incrementally and coyotes now occur statewide.  Current trends appear to display a declining distribution gradient when proceeding in a west to east direction across the state.  Highest densities are witnessed in western Maryland, and the lowest occur on the eastern shore.

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Recent analysis in Virginia has verified an approximate 29% annual growth rate in its coyote population.  Maryland and Virginia share similar habitat types and land use patterns.  Therefore, it is probable that Maryland’s coyote population is displaying comparable trend characteristics.  In Maryland, coyote occupy most of the state’s habitat types.  Highest densities currently occur in intermixed woodland/farmland areas.  However, it is probable that population densities will continue to increase in remaining habitat types, including Maryland’s rapidly increasing suburban corridor.

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Coyotes also have extremely broad food habits.  Dietary items range from plant material and insects to deer and domestic animals.  Although small mammals (mice, rabbits) and birds are typically the most important food items during certain periods of the year, coyote capitalize on seasonally and locally abundant food sources.  During certain periods, insects and plants may predominate, while at other times carrion or livestock may be preferred.

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Maryland and Delaware have the distinction of being the last two states in the contiguous United States to be colonized by coyotes.  Maryland is quite fortunate to have the unique perspective of witnessing the ecological and social impacts of established coyote populations in other states.  It is a biological certainty that Maryland will share many of the same experiences.  Regardless of geographic location, eastern coyotes all possess the same basic genetic material and exhibit essentially the same behavioral traits and population characteristics.

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Impacts on natural communities are also fairly predictable and can negatively impact various sympatric native species.  Establishment in unoccupied regions of the eastern US, coyotes have assumed the role of top-order predator.  Consequently, they tend to fundamentally alter existing ecosystem structure and function.  Various species experience population declines as a result of their status as coyote prey, or from direct competition for existing resources.

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Culturally and ecologically significant species including red fox decline dramatically in response to increasing coyote populations.  Eastern coyote and red fox share many common habitat requirements and occupy overlapping niches.  Through time, the larger and more resilient coyote is able to out-compete and displace resident red fox populations.  As a result, red fox are typically delegated to existence in small areas devoid of individual coyote home ranges.  Diminishing red fox populations have currently been noted in portions of central and western Maryland.

Lesser, yet still significant changes are expected in gray fox, bobcat and other associated predator and prey populations.  Long-term impacts on white-tailed deer are not completely known in the East. Coyote food habit studies regularly show consistent use of deer as food.  However, it does not appear that coyote limit deer populations on a regional scale at this time.

Public opinion concerning coyotes evolves in a very predictable fashion.  As coyote first appear in an area, they are novel and receive a great deal of interest.  As population densities and associated nuisance complaints increase through time, public opinion quickly changes from novel fascination, to “I do not want this animal in my neighborhood.”  Few, if any other wildlife species evoke as widespread and passionate disdain by the general public as coyotes.

Coyotes typically become established in suburban areas and efficiently prey on local dogs and cats.  In fact, a localized indicator of the presence of coyotes is a rapid decline in the free ranging cat population.  Livestock and pet losses have been experienced in Maryland, with frequency of occurrence paralleling increasing coyote populations.

Coyotes howl infrequently, but when they do, especially on a cold quiet day, or right before dark, it carries for a long way in wild areas.  Howls are thought to be used by coyotes to announce their location.  Coyotes are known to howl in response to loud noises like fire alarm whistles.  They also seem willing to respond to most coyote howling calls, so long as they hear them.  Eastern coyotes don’t pack like wolves, but do run in family units and pairs.  Although families usually break up in autumn, they occasionally stay together until breeding activity starts in mid winter.

Coyotes usually kill deer by grabbing and holding onto their throats.  Then they consume the internal organs, particularly the liver, which is very nutritious.  Dogs, on the other hand, take down deer by grabbing the hind quarters, which is also where they typically start eating.

Coyotes are opportunists.  They’ll eat almost anything.  Coyotes do spend considerable time mousing, but they’ll settle in a second for a rotting road-killed deer, or a cat or small dog that strays too far from the house.  Coyotes raising young can be a problem for farmers during spring and summer.  Sheep, chickens and ducks are especially vulnerable.  Most times coyotes kill what they need and leave with it. But on occasion they seem to go on killing sprees.

Once an animal that could be found only in Maryland’s most remote settings, coyotes, with each passing year, have been discovered closer and closer to civilization.  As they adapt to living in the suburbs, their way of life may change.  Given this situation, the profile on Maryland’s coyotes may be incomplete.  But let’s face it, as cunning and large as this canid is, it’s quite capable of almost anything as it relates to disturbing and killing pets and some farm animals.  So play it safe, give coyotes the consideration they deserve.

How cool.  We will continue to monitor, and I hope to swap out some of these photos with better ones, should the trail cameras get better photos.

The following photos are an update to this post, adding two photos from the same camera location as above, and dated Friday, March 18, 2016 at 1:00 AM.

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The single coyote is along the right edge of the photos.  Click the photos to enlarge, so as to see more detail.

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The following is a great link called the Natural History of the Urban Coyote that discuses the call of the coyote, which is spot on:

http://www.urbancoyoteproject.com/blog/2015/9/3/translating-the-song-dog-what-coyotes-are-saying-when-they-howl

Good overview video:

 

 

 

 

 

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