Thursday, February 17, 2011


Nature Watch

By Susan Thurn,
Cable Natural History Museum

Its tracks lead down the driveway and off into the woods past our house. The tracks are in a straight line, showing an animal with purpose and a plan. At night, the eerie sound surrounds our house as it filters through the night air. Sometimes the sound is as if from a short distance, and other nights the sound comes closely from across the field. The tracks and night songs are evidence that a coyote family is one of our many neighbors.

Howls, yips, yelps and barks make up the high-pitched, varied calls of a coyote. Heard mostly at dusk or night, the calls are filled with short notes or long rising and falling notes. When a coyote is calling its pack together it howls with one high note, but when together as a pack, they yip and yelp more in continued communication.

What is on the coyote menu? Coyotes do well in so many different environments because they are not too choosy about their diet. They predate on small mammals such as voles, squirrels, rabbits, and mice. They will eat fish, snakes, insects or other invertebrates. They will eat ground-nesting birds, and grouse as well. They also scavenge on dead animals. During late summer and winter, they feed on fruits, berries and other plants.

When I play with our dog Tucker, I often “stalk” him from across the yard. When coyotes hunt a mouse or vole, they will stalk slowly through the grass, using their sense of smell to locate the prey, then leaping upon it. Coyotes can pounce up to thirteen feet and run up to a speed of up to 35 miles per hour. A single animal will chase down rabbits, while a hunting pack or pair will team up to pursue larger prey as big as deer. Pack hunting is more common in the winter, and a pack of adults, yearlings, and young will pursue a deer to exhaustion or drive it toward a member of the pack hiding in the brush.

Coyotes are social animals, playing often. They advertise their location with their sounds and smells. Enjoying home ranges up to ten square miles in size, they are a common animal that surrounds us in the north woods. They are known to us through folklore as being very mischievous animals. They are also an enjoyed part of popular culture, as I remember, having grown up with the spectacular, “100-lives” Wile E. Coyote. Most of all, today, I continually enjoy the sounds of their calls at night. They are aptly named, as their scientific name, Canis latrans, means “barking dog.” They are truly a neighbor to appreciate!

For over 42 years, the Museum has served as a guide and mentor to generations of visitors and residents interested in learning to better appreciate and care for the extraordinary natural resources of the region. The Museum invites you to visit its facility and exhibit, “In a New Light” photographic exhibit focused on the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. Find it in Cable at 13470 County Highway M. Also discover us on the web at, on Facebook, or at our blogspot,, to learn more about our exhibits and programs.

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