Thanks to toughness and intelligence, coyotes have survived in Lake Forest and elsewhere
Updated: November 10, 2011 2:15PM
We have a small pack of coyotes that live near our Lake Forest house, and we see them crossing our property every so often.
I surmise that this small pack ranges throughout the forested areas south of Conway Farms and probably also hunts in the forest preserve area in eastern Mettawa. Our local coyotes are members of a species of wildlife scientifically known as Canis latran. The coyotes in our neighborhood represent one of the most adaptable and resilient animal species in North America.
Adaptability, toughness and intelligence have made the coyote successful. As a carnivore, the North American coyote has the characteristic keen eyesight and large brain of most predators. As part of the animal family that includes domestic dogs (Canidae) they also have the elongated snout and superb sense of smell that is common to most canines. This combination of intelligence and physical capability has made the coyote one of the most prolific and widespread large animals in North America. They can be found in every state and their range extends south into Central America and north into the Arctic regions.
Coyotes are the largest wild predators that live in our state. They have adapted their social structure to their environment as well. Coyotes can live and thrive as lone hunters or they can hunt together in packs as large as 10 individuals. A recent study of coyotes in the greater Chicago area indicated that more than half of their food is meat and this includes rabbits, mice, birds, and white-tailed deer. Because the deer are an important food source, pack hunting is similarly important. It would be difficult for a single coyote that typically weighs between 25 and 45 pounds to successfully attack and kill a healthy adult white-tailed deer, but a pack of coyotes can be effective in hunting such larger game.
Coyotes are often nocturnal and are seen in the twilight or early morning hours on the roadways or adjacent fields in Lake Forest. They are easy to recognize by their silhouette. They resemble German shepherd dogs but are smaller in stature. They carry their long tails low and below the level of their spine, unlike their domesticated cousins. They can vary in color from whitish and light yellow to almost black, but all have characteristic erect and pointed ears and they move with an agile, tireless trot.
Coyotes rarely live to be more than five years old but some have been found double that age. Like dogs, coyotes communicate with each other through a variety of audible signals including yelps, howls and barks. They also silently signal to each other with posturing and even facial expressions. Their ability to communicate helps them coordinate their hunts and social interactions with other members of the pack.
There was a time when coyotes were rare in Illinois but as the human population of the state grew, it seems that coyotes adapted and grew alongside the settlements and human developments. Today, coyotes are numerous enough that about 7,000 coyotes are harvested each year in Illinois, most of these by hunters, though trapping is still permitted within strictly regulated areas and seasons.
Coyotes are family-oriented animals. Female coyotes have a litter of two to 20 puppies each year, usually in a den situated at the base of a hollow tree or other protected refuge. Both parents help to raise and feed the young. Strong families have been an important part of the coyote’s survival profile. The puppies stay close to their parents for four or five months after birth and most often become part of the larger pack as they mature.
Humans sometimes dislike coyotes but they do much more good than harm. On rare occasions, coyotes will eat poultry or even smaller domesticated pets, but their innate fear of humans means that such prey is unusual. Their consumption of vermin and other pests is more common and is distinctly beneficial. Still, it is a mistake to feed or promote contact between humans and coyotes. They are wild animals and their predatory instincts could produce unfavorable results from such encounters.
Last Saturday, our two dogs, an irascible old English mastiff and a pug, were outside early in the morning. I heard some aggressive barking from the mastiff, who is protective of her smaller compatriot. When I went outside to investigate, I saw two coyotes sitting alertly across the street from our front yard.
The coyotes were returning from their nighttime hunt and they had stopped to consider our two dogs. They could not have known that the two dogs were confined by an invisible electric fence and the coyotes sat at a distance that would have provided some margin of safety if they needed to escape. Apparently, they were carefully evaluating the best way to get past the big, snarling dog that was a barrier to their route home. They may have also been considering a run at the little fat pug, though this would have been unwise in an area that was well protected by the mastiff.
The coyotes studied the scene for a long moment. I watched these two intelligent wild animals as they observed the threats and the surrounding terrain. The coyotes finally looked at each other and came to the wise decision that they did not need to contest either the route or the potential pug breakfast with their cousin canine. After all, the mastiff is almost five times the weight of a coyote. Even a domesticated mastiff would have little trouble dispatching a much more diminutive coyote or two. The two coyotes finally shook themselves and then headed off to the north, detouring around our yard and into the woods behind our property. I wished them good luck as they prepare themselves and their families for the hard Illinois winter that is bearing down on us all.
Bob Gariano is President of RGA, an executive search firm in Lake Forest that recruits senior executives and board members for public and private companies. Bob can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.