Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Coyote wisdom

Trickster, Shape-Changer, keep me from danger.
Cunning magician, teach me your ways
Of magical fire, powers much higher.
Lead me to new life. Brighten my days.


The big news here locally is that a toddler was attacked by a coyote, from the Asbury Park Press (links to full story):

"As a group of children played in the backyard of a Middletown home, an animal, believed to be one of two or three coyotes that emerged from the woods, ran to and grabbed a 20-month-old boy, township officials said.

The family managed to scare the animal away, and the toddler was treated at a local hospital for scratches and teeth marks, in what wildlife experts said is probably the first coyote attack on a child in state history.

After the animal attack Friday off Kings Highway East, near Chapel Hill Road, local officials took a second look at six to eight other recent reported sightings and incidents involving pets that were attacked by what were initially thought to be stray dogs.

And while officials have not yet received independent confirmation, because of Friday's attack, and based on the description and behavior of the animals, it appears coyotes are roaming in the neighborhood near Normandy Road, the private thoroughfare that connects the main base of the Earle Naval Weapons Station with the weapons station's pier on Sandy Hook Bay, Township Administrator Robert Czech said.

"They didn't think they were dealing with a pattern, or series of incidents that related to a pack of coyotes, until we put pieces together (after) Friday evening," he said.

The other cases include four puppies that were killed and a pet cat that was attacked, he said."

My initial reaction was of disbelief that a coyote would be so bold. While I've read that they're present throughout the state of NJ, I'd never seen one myself nor knew of anyone who had seen one. Then I talked to a few people who roam the woods regularly or who live in less-developed areas and sure enough, they'd seen a few over the years.

I know nothing of the nature of coyotes, but this story leaves me feeling very skeptical. Would a coyote be so daring as to try and grab a little child? Anyone with coyote wisdom to share?

31 comments:

Mon@rch said...

Not if this is the place to say this but I have had a Coyote who charged me (probably thought I was a deer) but came about 10 feet before I started screaming and yelling! It then stopped and turned around and ran away.

LauraHinNJ said...

Surely this is the place! I'm looking to hear people's stories, Monarch. Do you know if a single coyote could take down a deer?

Susan Gets Native said...

Jeepers. I'd yell, too.
IMHO, I think a coyote would have to be very hungry to go after a toddler. Same as a raptor going after a dog or cat.
We have them around here, and I used to be happy about it, but now, maybe not.

maggie said...

I am no Coyote expert but my uncle says they too are having a problem and he lives in CT. I was astounded Coyotes in Ct. didn't even seem rural enough. I wonder if the Coyotes are bold or just hungry and desperate? Not to discount the severity by any means, (that would be a dead Coyote if it were my toddler) but I watched on "Planet Earth", a desperate Polar Bear that was so hungry he attempted to kill a Walrus to no avail and in the end the tusk wounds killed him. Long story short keep your bunnies inside!!

GreenmanTim said...

The Eastern coyote is a newcomer to the northeastern US. It is rapidly expanding its range to fill the vacant niche formerly occupied by the gray wolf. In fact, it has picked up some wolf DNA in its migration from west to east and is larger than its western kin. It may well be changing its behavior in respoonse to different habitat and resource availability conditions, thoug attacks like the one you describe on people are exceedingly, almost singularly rare. Pets are another matter.

There have been coyote siting in New York's Central Park. They occur across all of Massachusetts but Martha's Vineyard and nantucket. Think about that. They are on What we New Englander's call The Cape, and crossed the Cape Cod Canal either on one of two multi-lane bridges or by swimming the swift current. They are on several of the Elizabeth Islands on Vineyard sound, happily eating the Forbes family's sheep.

They do not require strictly rural conditions, just as bears, deer, raccoons, skunks and a host of other species have taken advantage of the wildland/urban interface to find new resources and expand their territories.

LauraHinNJ said...

Maggie: I saw that on Planet Earth also - isn't that the best series!

No worries about the bunnies - they're always inside. But the stray cats in the neighborhood may have to be on their toes!

Susan: Yea, it's scary if true. I worry though that people will go nuts about it and demand some overdone response.

Trixie said...

I, too, would worry about the overdone response. I have lived with coyote for fourteen years. I have seen him many times, heard the singing many nights. My kids never went outside without an adult when they were really little due to the bears. I never lost a housecat to them. I found they frighten very easily. However, I would not discount a hungry or totally immature one.

Pam/Digging said...

I'm sorry to hear about the coyote incident in your area. We in central Austin are worried that an attack on a child is possible too. Coyotes are perfectly at home in urban areas like my neighborhood, as they are very adaptable and opportunistic scavengers/hunters. They have been attacking and killing pets here for some time. Recently the City of Austin hired someone to trap and humanely kill some of them. There is, of course, controversy over the usefulness of such a program, but it has put a dent in the sightings in at least one neighborhood where the coyotes had gotten really bold: approaching sliding-glass doors and looking inside, trailing walkers down the streets in broad daylight, and basically scaring people by not being afraid of humans.

The city is constantly reminding residents not to leave out pet food---or pets---and not to leave children outside unattended, especially where houses back up to greenbelts.

My worry, actually, is not coyotes but mountain lions. I've posted about recent sightings in the greater Austin area and feel it's just a matter of time before they reclaim old territory. I admire these animals, but (and this may be ecologically incorrect) I don't want them in my neighborhood, especially as I have small children. I do think it's inevitable, however. The cats are making a comeback across the U.S.

If you're interested in reading about how Boulder, Colorado, dealt with an encroaching mountain lion population in the 1980s and 90s, read David Baron's excellent book, "Beast in the Garden."

burning silo said...

We see coyote around here a lot. People do report that coyote come into their yards and kill cats. Coincidentally, Don came home tonight and told me that a coworker heard a horrible racket outside his house last night, looked and and found a cat (not his own), lying on its back screaming and clawing the air at a coyote that was snarling at it. They were both on the guy's back deck right outside the door! He yelled at them and they both took off in different directions.
We've got at least one very large coyote around our place. Don saw it last week behind the barn at about 10 in the morning. Our neighbour described a similar coyote (this one is very dark) coming into his backyard in daylight.
I haven't heard of any coyote attacks on humans in this area. Last summer, there was a wolf that attacked a child up along Lake Superior. A park ranger shot the wolf after it tried to drag one child off, and then, when frightened away, it grabbed another child. People reported that it looked sick and was limping, so that probably explains why it was desperate enough to risk grabbing a human. I suspect that most animals that attack humans are sick (rabid or just too sick to chase game).
I have to say that I've found foxes a lot bolder than coyote. I've had a fox run into the barn and grab a duck from right in front of me while I was milking my goats. However, it was a female fox and she seemed desperate to capture chickens and ducks which she would drag back to her den. Perhaps a female coyote raising a litter of pups might also become aggressive if she was having a difficult time finding enough food.

bunnygirl said...

We have coyotes around here, although they mostly stay around the parks. I've never heard of one attacking a human. But if it's true that coyotes have interbred with wolves in the northern part of the country, that might account for the attack.

Also, the wording of the story suggests the attack on the child might've been part of a pack hunt. I get nervous when I see or hear more than one coyote at a time. Individually, they're shy, but like all creatures (including humans), get enough of them together in one place, and all bets are off.

Jayne said...

I suppose hunger and desperation will make any animal behave in ways it normally would not. Just like the scene in Plant Earth where the lions attacked an elephant. Hunger is a strong motivator, and it is scary that they would be brave enough to come to a backyard to scope out a potential meal.

KGMom said...

Wonderfully thoughtful comments--key points I glean--1) coyotes are occupying an ecological niche that we humans have created by driving out other larger predators; 2) coyotes are highly adaptable; 3) humans being the smartest dumb animals will over-react.
One of the best books I ever read was by Barbara Kingsolver (a favorite author of mine) called PRODIGAL SUMMER. It is set in West VA and is about a biologist who observes coyotes. She eventually clashes with a bounty hunter who kills coyotes. She observes that coyotes only flourish when we try to wipe them out.

vicki said...

We had them in Michigan-more up where my folks lived in the woods. But in Ann Arbor proper, the last year we were there, we heard them a couple times at night. We also had red fox who, in three short years, became completely comfortable with wandering through our big back yard and down the dirt road out front- all close to busy city center and a busy intersection. They were looking for vulnerable squirrels or rabbits but our usually fearless 23# cat took heed. At 23# you would think no slim fox would approach but McCloud would never go out when there was eau du fox about the place. All a problem of encroachment, don't you think? Us upon them...

vicki said...

P.S. I remember the wolf story that Bev refers to since that is my dad's neck of the woods. And I agree- this is the time of year when there are young mouths to feed and these animals get more desperate.

dguzman said...

I agree with hungry and desperate. Wow, it's scary to think of coyotes in a neighborhood; it's one thing when deers nibble your flowers down to nubs, quite another when they're after any small prey they can get. In a neighborhood, that's a pretty big menu.

Mary said...

Living in the suburbs for most of my life, I've never laid eyes on a coyote and hope I never will. I haven't heard of any such attacks in NC but I'm glad I read all of these great comments as I'll be aware of any potential danger.

Cathy said...

Nature is not kind. It's a dangerous world out there. My brother and sister-in-law have to hover over their chihuahua at night as he goes potty. A Great Horned Owl has swooped low over their heads.

When my son lived in Boulder during the period Pam referred to - there were trail head signs instructing you to ram your fist down the lions throat in hopes you would asphyxiate it before it devoured you. Yikes.

Anonymous said...

I loved Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, and have a new respect and appreciation for the ways of coyotes because of it.

Heather
Wayne, PA

Patrick Belardo said...

Wow... I've seen evidence of them here in NJ many times and my dad has seen one in rural Hunterdon County. According to Wikipedia, they don't typically eat full-size deer, but may eat a fawn. They will feed on road-killed deer though.

mon@rch said...

I would have to believe that a single coyote could take down an injured deer but sounds more like a thing a pack would do! But, I believe one of the reason's their range is expanding is because of the deer in the North East. Hope this helps!

LauraO said...

We have had coyotes here in northern NJ forever and I've never heard of any problems with pets or people. In KY, there was a rather large pack that lived in our woods and howled every night at the fish dump - but they never harmed our lost pups or neighborhood pets. Neighbors warned that coyotes will attack cats and sometimes dogs but we never heard any cases where they actually did.

I've never heard of them attacking a human, but as many have said here, with encroaching development, less habitat, and loss of fear of humans, I suppose anything is possible. I would bet the one in your area is either sick, starving, or has lost the fear of people, which can make it dangerous.

Sandy said...

We are begining to see them here in southern Maine, but so far, have had no problems with people interaction. I would worry about small animals, though. A few years ago, I found a half eaten rabbit in my garden.
The dog I used to have was smaller than a rabbit.

jemkagily said...

This was front page news up here in Morris county. The Star Ledger reported that the animal looked ill and "mangy", and that could be a possible reason for the attack. We have had coyotes in this area for a long time and it was shocking to hear of one bold enough to come that close to humans. It goes without saying that pets should not be allowed to roam "free" with predators around, but unless the coyote were severely debilitated it would NEVER attack a human being. Their usual prey is rodents and they simply don't view people as possible food items. Don't think they'd go after a deer either, though roadkill would be a welcome food source. Hoping that this incident won't provoke in the public a witchhunt against this secretive Trickster, who has been here a lot longer than most people realize.

Larry said...

I've had Coyotes right on my street.They will eat cats.I've had them stare me down from across a field.-I think that as they grow in numbers they may become more bold.-I could imagine it possible that they would attack a child.-It's probably a rare occurence though.

Maya's Granny said...

I recently posted a picture of a coyote in a Quiznos on my blog and one of the comments directed me to This article about urban coyotes.

LauraHinNJ said...

Tim: Thanks for the additional info. I remember hearing about the coyote in central park at some point - I think they might have shipped it off to live at some sort of *preserve*?

Your mentioning how coyotes have found their way to the cape makes me think of other predators that cross onto the barrier islands via bridges or ice in winter and then prey on nesting birds. The streets of NYC seem much more challenging to navigate, but if they are as common as some of the reading I've done makes me believe, then I'd imagine that coyotes might soon become another backyard menace here in suburbia.

Trixie: Hi, thanks for sharing your experience. I would think that in your part of the world people are more prepared to deal with and are more accepting or appreciative of the wildness that's out there. If you're accustomed to bears, I can't imagine a coyote or two posing much threat. ;-)

That sort of thinking; of being aware of the possible danger of wild animals out *in the yard* is very alien to most of us, at least here in NJ, beyond mosquitos and ticks.

threecollie said...

Hi Laura, glad you stopped by Northview so I stopped over here. We have had coyotes for probably thirty years. They have never bothered US, but whereas we use to have almost an infinitely expanding population of barn cats, (as town people drop them off for a "good home on the farm"), we now have about seven that are smart enough to stay inside the buildings at night. Friends have had them come right INSIDE their cow barn in broad daylight to take cats. We have had them kill at least six or seven newborn calves and one cow. I think I will link to you and post about our experiences with them. this is a very pertinent topic that is going to become more so as they expand their range,

Julie Zickefoose said...

Dear Laura,
Thanks for sparking this interesting forum. I knew someone in E. Haddam CT. where I used to live and observe coyotes regularly who was haying on his tractor when several coyotes came out of the woods, grabbed and killed his (large) dog right in front of him. This is a territorial thing, I understand; they perceive the dog as an interloper and competitor. They similarly try to eliminate foxes wherever they live, and they have succeded, sadly, on our property. I used to have dens of both gray and red fox, but no more. It's all coyotes now.
I have heard the wolf-gene theory, but I don't buy it. When they first invaded New England they were referred to as coy-dogs, and there was a lot of talk about wolf genes, until genetic testing revealed they were 100% coyote. Some variation can be expected in the different habitats they're adapting to, and larger size would be expected in colder climates.
I think of coyotes as a partial solution to the immense problem of free-hunting housecats, and I applaud their efforts to keep the diseased but destructive feral cats in our area in check.
As you might imagine, though, that last pee of the evening for Chet (23 lb.) is fraught with anxiety for me, and I call him in as soon as he's done his business. I have always thought that would be the way he goes, but I'm not ready for it. We had a coyote follow us from the mailbox one day, yipping the whole way--it was just inside the woods, parallel to us. Couldn't see it but man, it spooked us! Chet stuck to me like glue. When he hears them howling he cowers. Like I cower, when I think of somebody giving me a painting like the one in your next post...

robin andrea said...

Interesting discussion here, Laura. We hear and see coyotes here quite often. Our neighbor told us that he watched a pack of coyotes take down a deer on a neighboring island. When we lived in Santa Cruz, the coyotes often came down out of the hills and made a meal of many neighborhood cats. In fact, now that I'm writing this, I just remembered that my sister lost one of her cats to a coyote down in Ventura county, in southern California. It would not surprise me that a coyote might try to attack a small child. Hunger and opportunity are lethal combinations.

LauraHinNJ said...

I think it may take me a month, but I'll manage to respond to all of these wonderful comments! Really I had no idea how commonplace coyotes are for so many people.

Pam/digging: I'm amazed that an area as populated as Austin would have coyotes and mountain lions to the point that they should need to be controlled! People here in NJ see a bear in a neighborhood and it's on the news for days; can't imagine what we'd do in a situation like you have.

Bev: Even fox sightings are pretty rare here in my neighborhood.

I haven't seen another word about this coyote attack since the other day and wonder if they've confirmed it or what. The area where it happened is along a miles long government/navy road (used to transport missiles and such - fun!) but I'd imagine that if there were to be an unknown pack of coyotes, that would be the place for one.

Pam/Digging said...

Laura, you really did spark quite the discussion. Just to clarify my earlier comment, coyotes are commonplace in Austin, even in in-town neighborhoods like mine. Though I've yet to see one, plenty of other folks have, and pet losses have been growing. Hence, the trapping program that the city is doing now.

Mountain lions are known to be in the Hill Country west of Austin, and there have been isolated, unconfirmed sightings on the outskirts of Austin (Wildflower Center, Circle C neighborhood, Brightleaf State Natural Area), but they aren't on the radar for most people. However, I think it's just a matter of time before they become suburban residents, just like the deer and coyotes.

According to Baron's book, which I mentioned in my earlier post, many more communities will be dealing with lions as they reclaim their previous territory. They are moving east and have been confirmed to be in Missouri already. He predicts they will even return to Connecticut. Food for thought.