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Coyotes Scavenging

Coyote tracks from three different directions led to an area where a deer’s well-cleaned skull was the only remnant of a communal meal. It had been dug up from a spot nearby where it had been cached, and carried to a more protected area to work on.  Coyotes are omnivores, but about 90% of their diet consists of mammals.  Coyote scat I’ve examined has included, among other things, the hair of Muskrat, Snowshoe Hare, White-tailed Deer and small rodents as well as feathers, grass and apples.

Coyotes are commonly blamed whenever there is a decline in the White-tailed Deer population.  Studies involving the removal of deer populations in a given area have not found any evidence that Coyote removal caused an increase in the deer population, nor did it affect the overall deer population growth. The fact that Coyotes are not causing deer populations to decline can also be seen in the devastating effect White-tailed Deer are having on forest ecosystems throughout the eastern United States as the Coyote population increases.

That’s not to say Coyotes don’t hunt deer – they do, primarily in the spring (fawns) and in the winter, especially when there is enough snow and/or crust to slow deer down but not Coyotes. However, much of their venison consumption is a result of their scavenging deer carcasses, which they do any time of year. Examine Coyote scat and the chances are great you will find deer hair in it; chances are also great that it came from a carcass, not a living deer.

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9 responses

  1. Diane

    CWD is also a cause of deer decline.

    January 22, 2020 at 7:43 am

  2. kathiefive

    If coyotes are contributing to natural control of white-tailed deer in this age of Lyme disease, this seems to me to be a service, not a problem. While the reservoir of Lyme is in the population of mice and other small mammals, the deer ticks that transmit Lyme to humans need a large host for the last of their three blood meals. Usually that host is a deer. On Monhegan Island, which had a very high human infection rate of Lyme disease, a sharpshooter was hired by the Town to eliminate the deer. The result was the elimination of Lyme disease contracted on Monhegan.

    January 22, 2020 at 9:57 am

    • Alice

      Sad for the Deer, but a bonus for Humans. Lyme disease is quite nasty (I’ve had it). Now it’s Powassen disease to worry about from the ticks. Even worse.

      January 22, 2020 at 10:11 am

  3. Cindy

    Hi Mary. How did learn learn what hair was from what animal? Thanks! – Cindy

    January 22, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    • Hi Cindy,
      The feathers, grass and fruit were easy. I recognized the color/texture of muskrat fur, (a rusty red color and very soft to touch) as well as snowshoe hare (white) and deer (crimped, because they’re hollow).

      January 23, 2020 at 10:51 am

  4. janjukkola

    Hi Mary,

    I am really enjoying your two books (Naturally Curious) that I bought at Bridgton Books. Is it safe to leave our bird feeders out now? We are still taking them in every night. Thanks for your help with this.

    Jan Jukkola

    January 22, 2020 at 4:58 pm

    • Hi Jan,
      I’m not sure where you live, but in central Vermont I haven’t heard of any recent sightings, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been any. My guess is the sub-zero temperatures make it safe to leave your feeders out at night now, but no promises!

      January 22, 2020 at 7:31 pm

  5. Victoria Weber

    Mary- thanks for mentioning the over-abundance of deer and the negative effects they are having on forests and forest renewal.

    January 22, 2020 at 5:09 pm

  6. Bill on the Hill

    Bare in mind, the coyote is NOT a native specie in the northeast & there is a host of problems associated with this as I see little to no mention of the negatives with respect to the coyote… A pack of coyotes can also wear a deer down with NO snow on the ground & ultimately get their prize. The bitch coyote in heat is known to draw dogs ( pets ) out & eventually they become members of the pack thereby becoming & creating coy dogs…
    The unspoken truth here is, the deer hunter can & often does shoot coyotes & coy dogs on sight.
    The coy dog will come home to sleep & eat & run deer when the opportunity presents itself…
    This is just one of many reasons why most towns have leash laws.
    Great post Mary, my point here was to show the other side of the coin a little… :~)

    January 24, 2020 at 9:21 am

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