It took me a while to get used to the Mearns coyote native to Cochise County, Arizona. I come from Montana (with a number of years resident in South Dakota, Wyoming, Washington, you name it), and up thataway the Devil Dogs run roughly twice the size of their smaller southwestern cousins, the Canis Latrans Mearnsi.
Devil Dogs? I don’t use that term for coyotes much these days, but first coined it when the late Green Eyes (a black cat) and I slept together in a steel storage shed before the Border Fort was built. Late at night, we’d hear a coyote pack start up their nightly yammer, sometimes rather close to the shed.
Green Eyes would be watching the door intently. “It’s okay, baby,” I’d tell her. “Devil Dogs can’t come in here.”
Coyotes will eat pretty much anything that doesn’t eat them, so it’s probably a good thing that my wife and I’ve made friends with the local Little Wolves. Supposedly, the subspecies we have here only weigh 15 to 25 pounds…but ours are remarkably healthy. Like every other species of anything we’ve seen on our property, they eat well. They look bigger and stronger than the sometimes notably scrawny and probably worm infested versions we see away from our acreage.
One thing Pam and I’ve noticed is that the desert cleans itself. Scavengers are plentiful, and an omnivorous, opportunistic predator like the coyote won’t turn down a handout. They’ll eat your smaller pets, too, if you give them the opportunity–which is why our cats are “indoor only” critters.
With that in mind, we don’t need a garbage disposal. Our leftovers are minimal, but on rare occasion a few scraps are taken out to one particular spot some 80 yards from the house and left on open ground behind a small mesquite tree. If the drop happens early in the day, ravens are the most likely beneficiaries–unless it’s dead meat, like the Mojave green rattlesnake carcass I had to leave there not long ago.
If it’s carrion, the turkey vulture may drop by.
But if it’s late in the day, especially after sundown, the coyotes usually get it. We didn’t figure that out for a long time, but somewhere along the line, it dawned on us that the “scrap drop” happened to be smack dab in the middle of a coyote hunting trail…and the coyotes decided maybe we were okay.
You know. For humans.
Which led to one particular coyote becoming openly curious about us. She was clearly less fearful of us than were others of her pack. The evening I took these photos, she and her siblings and their parents had all come moseying through the clearing. They all knew I was there with the camera, and most of them were pretty camera shy.
But our girl, whom we first called Sunshine Girl and later renamed Angel, not so much..
She didn’t even check the scrap drop to see if there might be anything to eat. Being far down in her family’s pecking order–in fact, she appeared to be right at the bottom–that particular coyote wouldn’t have scored, anyway. So it wasn’t about food.
No, she just found this strange two-legged with his camera…interesting. Picked out a spot some 60 yards or so from my position and settled in to watch.
Interestingly enough, some (not all) of the pack members began to talk to us. My redhead is quite the critter whisperer, loves the wildlife to beat all, and love-talks the coyotes any time they stop by where they can be seen.
The next photo–in my book, anyway–is absolutely remarkable. It looks like the coyote is talking right to the camera, but in truth it was having a conversation with my wife…who was love-talking back from her bedroom window.
I just happened to be standing right outside (and a bit to one side), snapping the shutter as fast as the digital demon would cycle.
Tonight, just as I was getting this part of the page squared away, one of the coyotes gave us a shout-out. Not a loud one, just a little vocalization that said, “Hi, I’m in the area and saying Howdy.”
When that happens, I step to the nearest window and reply (somewhat softly so as not to wake my sleeping wife), “Love you, too!”
We’re on our third generation of these cool canines this autumn (October, 2012). The love-talker in the above photo doesn’t come around any more. Not since last spring when we realized Angel was styaying pretty close full time–but with a slightly wounded leg. She didn’t limp, but some of the photos told the tale: Alpha Mama had run her out of the pack when she came into heat, not sharing her big dog dude with no daughter, nunh-uh!
Alpha Mama and Big Dog Daddy weren’t needlessly cruel about it. They booted her, yes, but they also took care of their grown-up baby by yielding this area around the Border Fort to her.
“You stay near these two-legged critters at the Border Fort,” their behavior said clearly, “and you’ll be okay. We oldsters can handle the rougher territory. See ya, kid.”
Over the months, Angel acquired a mate, a young dog coyote who’s very intrigued by us and very skittish at the same time. We can always recognize him instantly because he has a big head that’s shaped a bit funny. Can’t put a finger on it, unless maybe he’s got a bit of domestic dog blood in him. That does happen. Nothing else about him looks “doggish”, though.
They had themselves a litter of pups. We didn’t look for the den–very bad manners to do that–but Angel brought her babies to visit Pam in the dream state one night. One of our indoor cats (though born feral and part bobcat) was in the dream, too, and loved the coyote pups no end.
She’s never had any babies of her own, but there’s a lot of Mommy-love in Kitten Precious.
The pups are getting pretty grown up now. When I drove our pickup truck into the yard after dark last night, returning from errands in Sierra Vista, one of the youngsters was standing less than thirty feet from the house, watching me park the GMC. With the headlights on dim, my eyes could see him/her perfectly but the camera could only pick up a blur.
Nonetheless, I’m going to post one of those blurs anyway. As photography, it’s really really bad–but as a reminder to me of the youngster’s presence, it’s priceless. He (gonna call him a “he” till further notice) didn’t panic when I opened the truck door a bit and began to love-talk him. He’s surely heard my voice out and about the premises, so it’s not a strange sound, and he seemed to know I was not the enemy.
Up to a point. He did turn and trot off eventually.
Frankly, I could ramble on about our Mearns coyotes all night. In fact, I have done that, since it’s after one a.m. now and qualifies as morning. But let’s wrap this page up, hit Publish, and go from there…after a few more photos, anyway.
The sunlight sighting was a rare treat, but every contact with our feral canine friends is special. Each individual is just that, an individual person–like the one in the next photo, definitely wanting to interact but more comfortable with a bit of “cover” between us.
A lone visitor usually watches us fairly carefully, but the rules change when the whole pack drops by. Then, we may get a human-watcher in the mix, but there’ll be others who seem mostly interested in sniffing the ground, checking for tasty grasshoppers or a nice smelly jack rabbit track or–well, there’s little doubt these predators can read scent on the ground like you or I read a newspaper.
They have to, if they’re going to survive.
One long range shot produced a portrait that simply begged to be enlarged despite the degradation in quality by the time we had a full-sized “face picture”.
The close-up was produced by enlarging a detail from a photo that was remarkable in its entirety. It was taken on December 19, 2011, with the winter winds pushing at the animals fur to create a most interesting visual effect. The animal knew I was there, of course–they always do–but for whatever reason, the coyote’s demeanor changes considerably when they turn to leave after visiting with you for a while.
It’ a bit of a puzzlement as to why ’tis so, but they tend to slink off, head held low, ears back, tail down. This one was caught in transition between the alert, ears-forward interaction with me and the slink-off that was about to happen.
And…the full slink-off.
Of course, the critter had to turn a bit if it didn’t want to run face-first into the nearest bush.
The body language of the Mearns coyote is a language unto itself. Check this out.
That day, we had clouds above and snow upon the Huachuca Mountains. Our place is down on the valley floor, but our readers nonetheless deserve this bonus photo.
One coyote approaching another will often use body language that no doubt has to do with proper protocol regarding the pack hierarchy…and sometimes they go into their acts while on the move. In sunlight, I could get stop action that wouldn’t blur anything except maybe a fast-flicking paw, but at dusk, you do what you can.
In summary, it would be fair to say that the local coyotes are our most treasured neighbors…and that’s saying a lot. But hey. Who could resist a face like this?
The Mearns coyote of Cochise County.