Coyotes in the bush: Be careful around one of Tahoe’s craftiest predators
In the coyote world, the female rules. Coyotes become sexually mature between 9 months and one year, but generally don’t begin breeding until age two.
When the female goes into heat in mid-winter, she may attract several males who vie for her attention. They are deferent, cautious and accommodating and may follow her and attempt to interact with her for up to a month.
The male will watch her every move, approaching her tentatively, backing off immediately if she shows any sort of adverse reaction to his presence. He will approach her slowly and may attempt to put his paw on her.
Once she chooses her male and they mate, the other males do not interfere and eventually wander off in search of more females. The coyote couple is mated for life.
The incubation period is 63 days, during which time the couple is preparing the den for birth. They may build a den in a rocky outcropping, excavate earth or find shelter among fallen logs or under a ledge. The female may line the den with grasses and fur pulled from her belly.
The male will hunt for her, bringing her food to the den. She will give birth to between three and twelve pups depending upon the abundance of prey, with the average litter size being about six.
The pups’ eyes are sealed and they are completely dependent on milk for the first 10 days, the teeth begin coming in around day twelve; at which time their diet is supplemented with regurgitated food.
The pups use their teeth to fight with their siblings beginning at three weeks of age, developing dominance hierarchies by four to five weeks.
Once they have determined “top dog” status, the pups can relax and engage in play with one another and are less inclined to fight.
The family leaves the den in June or July, and the pups join their parents on hunting expeditions and help patrol the territory.
The pups are three or four months old at this point, almost ready to fend for themselves. The family may separate in August, but may also stay together much longer, if food is plentiful.
Jennifer Hillman of Incline Village recently encountered one such family. Jennifer was walking early in the morning with her 110-pound German shepherd in the area near the IVGID Sweetwater treatment plant when she ran into “dad,” and he was not happy to see her.
He began circling her and her dog and no amount of gesturing, rock throwing or shouting would deter him. She tried to back away but he would not let her. It was a terrifying situation. Out of options, Jennifer began screaming for help.
Fortunately, two men from the IVGID Public Works heard her and came to her aid. Still the coyote would not back off, so one of the men went back down the hill to get a truck, which he drove to the area and loaded the frightened Jennifer and her dog, along with the other man into the truck.
The men offered to drive her home as she was too shaken to retrieve her own car. Jennifer is not easily frightened and regularly hikes in the woods with her dog, mingling in harmony with the multitude of wildlife that dwells in the forests of Lake Tahoe but this was an experience she hopes to never again repeat.
Despite her terrifying encounter with this extremely protective male coyote, Jennifer wants to emphasize that we all need to be respectful of wildlife and take reasonable precautions when venturing into the woods.
Since Jennifer’s story began circulating, more people came forth with tales of tangles with this family of coyotes in this particular area.
Until the pack disperses in another month or so, either avoid this area or be prepared to defend yourself and your pets.
If you encounter a coyote behaving aggressively, attempt to back away slowly, don’t turn your back on the coyote and do not run. Always carry a stick, some rocks, or better yet, a sling shot.
And remember, while it may seem that you are staring into the eyes of a diabolical demon, it may just be a parent protecting its young; however, that parent also has the ability to tear apart your precious pet so carry with you a healthy dose of fear and be ready.
Toree Warfield is an avid nature lover, and writes this column to teach and stimulate interest in the marvels that surround us. See saveourplanetearth.com to read columns and to find links to bird song recordings, additional photos and other content.