One reason coyotes seem unfazed by control efforts is that they adapt well to suburbia. They eat almost anything -- rodents, rabbits, pet food, poultry, garbage, fruit, etc. And by living close to people, coyotes gain protection and learn to eat a new easy-to-kill prey -- pets. This is just another reason to keep cats and small dogs indoors.
The thought of coyotes killing pets sends a chill down my spine. My 14-pound lap dog would be a tasty treat for a 35-pound coyote. So each night before going to bed, I watch from the porch as he does his business.
I suspect most folks don't think about coyotes until a pet disappears. Out of sight, out of mind. Some lose a dog or cat before they even realize coyotes are present. Coyotes certainly explain at least some of the missing dog or cat signs posted on bulletin boards at local grocery stores.
In nature, away from people, coyotes can help stabilize animal communities. Biologists in North Dakota have found that the presence of coyotes actually increases the nesting success of ducks.
The northern prairies of North America produce most of the continent's waterfowl. Unfortunately predation, mostly by red foxes, keeps nest success low. Where red foxes were common, duck nest success was only 17 percent. Where coyotes were common, foxes were scarce, and duck nest success almost doubled to 32 percent.
Just as wolves do not tolerate coyotes, coyotes do not tolerate foxes. Whether they drive them out of an area or actually kill them is unclear. Think of it as the canine pecking order. The practical result is that where coyotes occurred, fox populations declined. So when coyotes dominate an area, duck nest success booms.
The lesson is that nature is more complex than a superficial glimpse might suggest. Predators, though often viewed as bloodthirsty killers, actually add structure and diversity to interconnected animal communities.
Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033 or by email at sshala...@aol.com.