That horror-movie sound emitting from the thickets near White Rock Lake (or other urban forest) might actually be the sound of a couple of canines in love.
As the sun set over our neighborhood pond and I heard an unsettling howl — it sounded like a pack of otherworldly monsters to be honest — I was reminded of a long-ago interview, 2015, with wildlife expert Bonnie Bradshaw, who founded and presided over 911 Wildlife, who told us this.
“The Latin name for coyote is canis iatrans, which means singing dog. The coyote has 12 different vocalizations, some of them torturous to our ears, but to them it is a mating call. Two coyotes can sound like a dozen or more. Coyote mating season starts sometime around mid-February. Valentine’s Day.”
Here are a few other tidbits Bradshaw told us about urban coyotes that remain true today (her comments are edited for brevity).
“Cats make up just 1% of the coyote diet.
“There was a fascinating study conducted in Chicago [Coyote Research Project] where they tagged and are tracking 360 [+] urban coyotes. The findings in that study reflect what we see around here. Coyotes have adapted to living in residential neighborhoods. Their main food source is rodents. There are more rodents in developed neighborhoods. Therefore, coyotes will live longer, produce more offspring and those offspring will live longer in residential areas. They are not a threat to people. They occasionally will take a cat or small dog, but their danger to pets is greatly exaggerated. Cats make up less than 1% of the coyote diet. Cats are far more likely to be killed by a car. They could also become prey to a great horned owl or a bobcat.”
In rural areas people shoot them, but here we shoot them with our iPhones, and they know it. Also, coyote sightings are common this time of year.
“… they react to the seasons. Like us, they don’t want to be out during Texas summers, so you won’t see them much then. In the fall, winter and spring, they could be out any time of day. The coyote is extremely intelligent and has learned that humans in the city are no threat. In a rural area, someone will shoot them if they show themselves. Here, people will just pull out their cameras and shoot photos.”
Bradshaw says coyotes might be smarter than your dog.
“I would say they are smarter than your typical domestic dog. They have learned traffic patterns and patterns of homeowners and house pets. They find the properties with overflowing birdfeeders and fruit trees. Some people don’t know that a significant part of their diet is fruit. They thrive on a wide variety of food they find in the neighborhood.”
On shooing coyotes away …
“Over the past 250 years, man has tried various means — hunting, trapping, killing, moving — to rid urban areas of wolves and coyotes, but for coyotes it has had the opposite effect. The more we do to try to eliminate them or force them into hiding, the more they breed. The best way to eliminate them is to eliminate food. Don’t leave pet food outside. Don’t leave overflowing bird feeders. Eradicate any den sites. Often they will build a den under a shack or a porch. And finally, we can use aversion conditioning. When one is following you, or sitting on your lawn, yell at it. Throw something at it. Teach it to flee from humans. If someone has fed them, they will follow people, hoping to be fed.”
Bradshaw offered up some other very useful insight related to urban wildlife. For instance, she said that if you’re hearing something scampering in your attic, it is almost certainly a squirrel. (Although I personally discovered a feline family in residence in my own Lake Highlands attic a few years ago.) “If it sounds like a person running around up there, it is a raccoon. They are large and clumsy,” Bradshaw said.
If there’s a cacophony in your chimney, it’s probably chimney swifts. “They are very loud but very tiny. They are one of four birds totally dependent on human structures. Their little feet are incapable of perching, so they do everything in flight. They construct nests from tiny twigs. They will leave for winter. If they take up in your chimney, I suggest putting an old blanket in the damper to quiet the noise,” she told us.
On possums …
“Most common concerned calls we get are about coyotes, bobcats and possums. Especially possums. People are terrified that they are carrying rabies. But possums don’t carry rabies. In fact they are nice to have around. They are like a little neighborhood sanitation crew. They eat road kill and other nasty stuff such as dog excrement. They eat roaches and other things we don’t necessarily want to see.
“A lot of people call and say a possum is digging up their yard. I tell them the possum was framed. The armadillo did it.”
And lastly, the thing I don’t really want to talk about but will, snakes.
“The most common snake is a rat snake. It’s 99 percent of what we see in this area. And they can be as big as six feet long, which can be pretty intimidating. But they are not aggressive toward people. Again, keeping the snakes away is a matter of keeping the food sources away. Snakes eat rodents. Rodents eat trash, pet food and birdseed.”
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