Understanding the Complexity of a Carnivore’s Life

Reader Contribution by Geri Vistein
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Photo credit Debbie DiCarlo

To begin, I would encourage you to read my last blog if you have not done so as yet. In my closing statement there, I shared these thoughts:

“When coyotes are present on your land, they are offering you the free services of the keystone carnivore, if you are willing to accept them. And they will continue to do so in ways that will astound you if you would first stop and take note of the results of their services and if you understand what they ask of you.”

So keep looking for the results of their services. If you keep looking, you will see. But what do they ask of you? The answer has a great deal to do with their resulting relationship with your farm animals.

They want you to understand that they have a life to live as well, and that their life means as much to them, as yours means to you.  But in order to really understand this, it is important to be aware of their complex social lives, and how our interactions with them can either support or destroy their social relationships. Again, I cannot reiterate the importance of this in regard to the safety of your farm animals.

Coyote Ecology and the Importance of their Social Life

Coyotes, like wolves, have evolved a complex social life. They are highly intelligent carnivores that require a stable family. Coyotes mate for life….until death parts them. When they find each other, they will define a territory where only they and their pups will live. Only once a year, in mid to late winter they will mate, and in April or May their pups will be born.

Their pups are born blind and helpless but within two months they will begin to grow and require an increased amount of food.  Their parents must augment their hunting forays in order to feed their growing pups. In stable coyote families there will also be grown up pups from their previous years’ litters. This extended family assists the parents in their hunting efforts. In a stable family situation like this, members of the family often rely on small prey like rodents or rabbits. There is not the need to take down larger prey, like livestock.

Along with the protection and feeding of their pups, and introducing them to their complex language, the parents and the other adults in the family will begin to teach the pups how to hunt. Coyote pups are not born knowing how to hunt. They may even be afraid of the first mouse their parent sets in front of them. Learning to be efficient hunters takes time and practice over an extended period of time. The pups watch their parents as they take down larger prey like wild turkeys, beavers, fawns, or weakened deer to name a few. Then they will attempt to do the same, often failing to be successful at first.

They need to learn everything about their prey~ who they are, where they are, what time of year they are most vulnerable, and how to successfully end their lives. They need to map out in their heads every corner of their territory. Learning these skills protects them from starving, and protects your livestock, for starving may cause them to seek easy food that they were never taught to hunt….namely your livestock.

So you see the complexity of a carnivore’s life as they seek to survive…just as you seek to survive. So what are Coyotes asking of you? They are asking you to let them live their lives, and by doing so, you protect your livestock.  Give them a chance, and they will respond.


Until the next time I would encourage you to read this absorbing, classic book “Don Coyote” by long time rancher, Dayton Hyde

Geri Vistein is a conservation biologist whose work focuses on carnivores and our human relationships with them. In addition to research and collaboration with fellow biologists in Maine, she educates communities about carnivores and how we can coexist with them. You can find her at Coyote Lives in Maine, and read all of Geri’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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