The tawny colored coyote is working the edge of a steep field that slopes to the south. The old pasture, abandoned a few years ago, is shrinking as shrubs advance inward from the perimeter seeking sunlight . The primary invader is multiflora rose, an introduced plant that was meant to help farmers keep their cows in pastures. The densely thorned overhanging plant forms nearly impenetrable barriers to larger animals. The arching branches weighed down by snow form tunnels where smaller mammals and birds can covey while enjoying the fruits left behind from last summer.
The coyote has been seen working this area throughout the winter. No doubt she has had success here. Cottontail rabbits, voles, field mice, and partridge all use this area. All are excellent sustenance for this wily predator. The coyote moves slowly, stops, and angles each ear independently while listening for potential prey. The coyote cannot work itself into all areas of the dense underbrush but the tunnels created by the heavy snow holding down the prickly branches give some prey a false sense of security.
Witnessing this hunt brings mixed emotions. When I was younger I used to root for the prey. With time I saw the beauty of the balance of nature and began rooting for the predator. These days I am a cool, objective observer not rooting for either side. I have learned that the wild world is full of victories and losses. Each meal is a triumph for the predator and a forfeit of life for the prey. Each escape results in the prize of life for the prey and agonizing hunger for the predator. Perhaps from a different perspective one would see that this life and death cycle is simply a part of the natural world and cannot be summed up in such definite terms.
The coyote has worked her way along several hundred feet of this tangled fortress and suddenly disappears. A loud, shrill squeal can be heard. There is movement in the brush as can be seen by the branches bouncing about. Moments later the coyote reappears; a rabbit dangling from her mouth. The coyote puts the dead rabbit down on the snow and smells it from the head to the tail. She then picks the carcass up in her mouth, turns and scampers back up the hill. She disappears into thickets that dot the landscape.
It is breeding season for coyotes. Late January through the end of February bring songs, yelps, howling, crying and more that filter across the open fields and woods during the evening hours. I am not sure about the relationship between these vocal celebrations and the mating season but one thing is clear, it is the same every year. From a distance the cries can be heard a long distance on these dark nights. The sounds resonate excitement more than mourning. They fill the air with energy. The listener senses the pulse of life.
It seems too early for this coyote to be bringing her new found meal back to pups. No, she needs this sustenance to help her through the upcoming whelping season. Her mate is probably off hunting as well and will often share his catch so that they may both enjoy a healthy litter. I am impressed with how these wild canines work together.
Coyotes have complex social behavior. They find a mate and stay with them for life or until something happens to their mate. They both take care of the pups, and show a lot of affection while doing so. Anyone who has watched a mated pair of coyotes together has to wonder if they are not truly in love. They greet each other after being apart with a great deal of emotion. It is evident to me that canines, in general, share a lot of what we humans want in life; love, family, community. Not a bad way to get through a harsh world.
The old field appears quiet. Despite this I know that underneath the snow the meadow voles scurry about in their snow tunnels looking for food. Underneath the dense rose thickets cottontail rabbits chew on the bark of shrub stems for sustenance. Song birds, hidden by the overhanging branches, pick at the rose hips protected thorns. All are glad for another day of life; a triumph that goes unnoticed by most.
The coyote is somewhere enjoying her meal; gaining strength and desire for the challenges of the upcoming season. Feeding a family is not a matter to take lightly.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in January of 2010.