Cochise County Canines: The Mearns Coyote

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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.

The first halfway decent photo of a coyote taken with the Canon PowerShot in low light.

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.

Angel.

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.

The love-talker.

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.

Half-grown young coyote, out and about on is own and extremely curious about the two-legged and his noisy, light-flinging truck thing.

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.

Coyote in sunlight, a rare sighting.

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.

Peek-a-brush!

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 coyote watching me, one checking out the news on the ground.

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 expression speaks volumes.

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.

Checking me out one last time before slinking off.

And…the full slink-off.

And…the slink-off.

Of course, the critter had to turn a bit if it didn’t want to run face-first into the nearest bush.

Okay, made the turn. Now, wait for it, and…

The body language of the Mearns coyote is a language unto itself.  Check this out.

Super-slink!

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.

The Huachuca Mountains in winter.

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.

Body language on the move.

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?

Who could resist a face like this?

The Mearns coyote of Cochise County.

Now, that is one cool Mearns coyote.

6 thoughts on “Cochise County Canines: The Mearns Coyote

  1. Greetings!
    Totally loved your page on these great critters. We recently had a youngster brought to us after being found injured. We’ve aptly named him Wil E. Coyote 🙂 and he’s quite the character. You can see our guys story on our website – thanks for sharing yours!
    Best Wishes,
    Donna Mead
    Desert Rescue Animal Sanctuary

  2. Thanks, Donna. I clicked on your name & yes, did donate to help out Wil E.

    Someone–we believe it had to be a human–was responsible about six months ago for decimating Angel’s family. She’d been settled in with her mate, denning somewhere near the Border Fort, visible to us momentarily at dusk more days than not…for the better part of 3 years. The mated pair was seldom farther off than a hunt would take them for all that time until one week we didn’t see them at all. Then, when they did show up, it wasn’t “they”, but only one, a loner who was obviously either clinically depressed or seriously hurt.

    My intuition kicked in whether I liked it or not, telling me that this one had seen its mate killed, either by gunshot or by poison. If by gunshot, I was looking at a traumatized animal. If by poison, this one had likely gotten a lesser dose, not quite enough to kill it, but enough to make it very, very sick. The demeanor and general appearance of the animal made me believe at first it was the male who’d survived and our precious Angel who’d been murdered.

    But then, a couple of weeks into this observation process, I got a good enough look to realize that no, it was Angel I was seeing. It was her big-headed mate who’d bought the farm. There was still no way to know which form of coyote eradication had hit her mate, no way to tell how long it would take her to recover, but I admitted a huge sense of relief that it was our girl who’d survived. I could FEEL her sadness, felt it as my own, but at least she was still with us.

    As it turned out, it took her about two months to make the grade back to “seemingly normal good health”–but she’ll never be QUITE the same. She still knows we love her, but she’s a touch more hesitant to show herself away from the brush than she used to be. There’s no indication that she had a litter this year, or that if she did, that any of the pups survived.

    We continue to hope that in time she’ll attract a new mate worthy of her. It can’t be a whole lot of fun, sleeping alone in her burrow.

  3. Hi Fred,
    Yes we received your generous (and unexpected) donation, and completely appreciate it – Thanks!
    It was very saddening to hear about your Angel’s family. It was so nice yesterday to read your post about her. It’s nice to find others who don’t scorn them for simply being the animal they are. They never asked humans to move in on their territory, but have made the best of it when we do.
    Our little Wil E. is such a character, it’s distressing to think someone tried to end his life for sport.
    I would very much like to send you a tax receipt, either by way of email or USPS, just let me know where to send it.
    We don’t keep the website updated as often as we would like, but we do tend to keep up with our Facebook page and Instagram if you are so inclined to see more news and pics of Wil E.
    Thank you again for your generosity; we’re sending positive thoughts to Angel for finding a new mate so she can start again.

    Best Wishes,
    Donna Mead

  4. Thanks, Donna. You can email the receipt to azborderfort@hotmail.com and the good wishes for Angel finding a new mate are appreciated, too. The larger pack tends to show up here more in the early winter months, especially December, than any other time. Maybe they’ll have a good looking bachelor male running with them then.

  5. Hi Fred – Happy 2015!
    We have a new little one I just had to share with you! She’s only about 5 weeks old, she was found in an office complex in the southwest area of Las Vegas. Had a hard time getting her to eat at first, but we seem to be past that hurdle. Now she’s trying to prove she’s a coyote – giving us ugly faces and acting all tough! I’ll send you some pics by email, we aren’t posting her to our website right now as we have some busy-body trying to cause trouble, even had to remove Wil E. from the site too. He’s pretty much all grown up now, they definitely do not make good pets. We’re trying to find a way to re-introduce him to the wild so he can be happy.
    Anyway, you’re one of the few folks I think of who appreciate these critters like we do! Hope all is well with you and yours!

    Best wishes,
    Donna Mead

  6. AW-W-W! (For the new little one, the “tough girl”). I look forward to the email pics. If you ever want us to post her photos on THIS page, just let me know; busybodies would have a tough time giving us a hard time. And the best of luck in finding a route for Wil E.’s reentry into the wild.

    We’re doing all right; back atcha with the good wishes. 🙂

    Fred

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