A lot of folks don’t like coyotes but I’m in a different camp. I have great admiration for their adaptability, hunting skills, intelligence and communication abilities. Over the past few years I’ve had many opportunities to observe their behaviors on Antelope Island which has made me an even bigger fan of this amazing canid. To watch a coyote hunt is a fascinating experience.
This post is meant as a documentation of the opportunistic feeding tendencies of the species rather than as a showcase for technically perfect photos. Getting clear shots of any mammal on the ground (as opposed to perched or flying birds) is a rarity because of all of the grasses, sunflowers, sagebrush, rabbitbrush and moth mullein the photographer has to shoot through on the island. So there’s lots of “stuff” in front of the coyote in some of these shots and a couple of them are sizeable crops but I think their prey tendencies are documented reasonably well by the images.
1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc
Coyotes eat a lot of voles – prodigious numbers of them in fact. I’ve seen a single animal catch and consume 4-5 voles in the same area within just a few minutes and I’ve seen it several times.
1/1000, f/6.3, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc
But they’ll also take birds when they can catch them. This coyote was returning from the lake shoreline with an unusual prize - some kind of waterfowl. From the position of the leg attachment at the back of the body I’d guess it to be one of the grebe species.
1/500, f/7.1, ISO 400, 100-400 @ 320mm
Here a coyote has scavenged what’s left of a duck carcass along the causeway to the island. I suspect the duck was originally killed by either a Peregrine or Prairie Falcon as we would often see them during winter feeding on their waterfowl prey along the causeway. They would eat their fill and abandon the rest. Several coyotes seem to have learned that it’s worth it to brave all the close vehicular traffic along the causeway for the chance at some of these leftovers. The background in this image is ice that has been blown up onto the shore by the cold north wind.
1/1600, f/8, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc
Here a young coyote came oh so close to catching a first year Chukar as it flushed. We watched the coyote stalking a group of these young birds thinking all along that it had no chance to catch any of them. It very nearly succeeded but all it actually got was a single feather that came floating down in the next frame.
1/1250, f/5.6, ISO 640, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc
This young coyote is enjoying a magpie breakfast among the sunflowers. This one surprised me as I would expect the cagey magpie to be difficult prey for a coyote.
1/2000, f/8, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc
This coyote is feeding on a winter-killed Pronghorn. I’ve never witnessed a coyote actually hunting or stalking any of the larger mammals on the island (mule deer, pronghorn or bison). In fact, the only actual aggression I’ve seen between coyotes and larger mammals out there was when a gutsy pronghorn chased a couple of adult coyotes all over the north end of the island. I’ve documented that experience here.
1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 500, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc
But the staple for coyotes on the island is, without question, voles. Voles, voles and more voles for dessert. I’d estimate that 95 to 98% of the time when I’ve seen them with prey it’s been a vole. One thing has surprised me - despite the fact that the island is literally jumping with both jackrabbits and cottontails I’ve never witnessed a coyote eating or even hunting one. Perplexing…
1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 640, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc
Like most canids, coyotes nearly always lick their chops after eating.
1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 640, 500 f/4, 1.4 tc
Yes, I’m a great admirer of the coyote – one of the major success stories of evolution.
In March of this year Governor Gary Hebert signed into law the euphemistically named “Mule Deer Protection Act” which more than doubles the bounty for killing a coyote in Utah – from the previous $20 per pair of coyote ears brought in, to $50. The stated goal is to kill 20,000 of them in the state. They can be killed all year-long, there is no quota on how many can be killed nor are there regulations regarding how they can be killed.
This law was passed despite the facts that even wildlife officials are skeptical of the advisability and effectiveness of the law, trapping and poisoning are inhumane and inherently dangerous and the negative ecological impacts of removing such an important predator from natural systems are obvious. Funding a $7.5 million program over 10 years on a wasteful and ineffective coyote-killing program at the same time that our state parks are bleeding to death with never ending budget cuts makes my blood boil.
Once again I am embarrassed and disgusted by the ignorance and short-sightedness of Utah’s legislature. I had hopes that Governor Hebert would have the wisdom, foresight and political pluck to veto the bill. Silly me…