Friday, December 4, 2009

Coyote Meal

I enjoy finding signs of animal activity and trying to determine what was happening. This area of mashed and mangled tall grass caught my eye as soon as I got close. It looked like a square dance had been held here in the field. The key to this mess was to be found just a little farther to the right.

Coyotes had taken down a young buck and created a little dining hall. This is the second deer killed by coyotes that I’ve found this year. The first was less than an hour old when I walked up on it and the coyote was busy eating. Based on the condition of the grass and carcass and knowing that this wasn’t here when I walked through three weeks ago, I’m guessing the deer was killed about two weeks ago. The spinal cord is intact and the spine is still flexible. The Indian Grass had already dried and turned brown before being mashed down and the fescue was just starting to stand back up.

A pair or small family group of coyotes will claim a territory of six to ten square miles. They’ll rotate their hunting area within that territory, working each area heavily before moving on. This allows the area to repopulate with prey before being hunted again. The rotation seems to bring coyotes around to us about every three years. A few years ago, I found about a dozen deer skeletons. Maybe this was the work of the same coyote family. Coyotes feeding on a kill generally maintain a clean site. If this had been the work of dogs, the grass would have been torn up and there would have been signs of dried entrails and hide around the clearing.

The lower jaw was removed from the skull and picked clean. Not much of this deer was left uneaten. It’s amazing how little was left. Most of the carcasses I find have more hide left behind.

With the front of the skull missing, this skull reminds me of a Texas Jackalope. One of the signs of a healthy ecosystem is the presence of top of the line predators. It’s nice to see that our largest wild predator is having this type of relationship with the largest wild herbivore. Young coyotes are taught by their parents to identify prey items. Coyotes feeding on deer are not likely to be feeding on a farmer’s livestock.


  1. ...they really did strip those bones clean. They really must have worked together to bring down such a large deer. Even though it was a young buck, it looked pretty big.

  2. I wonder in the back of my mind if coyotes will start staking claims on our property once our remaining dog passes on. We saw a lone coyote wander by one time, on the other side of our stream, but otherwise they usually sound pretty far away when we hear them. As to taking down deer, our dogs (when we still had two of them) brought down a doe back in January of this year, and left a lot of it behind. It took them many days to get the pelt loose of the skeleton, and they went so far as to stow the pelt down below the house at one point (they had to drag it quite a distance from the site of the kill). Ah what fun. Thank goodness it was frigid then, otherwise things would have been pretty stinky.
    By the way, I can tell it's my bedtime, b/c my eyes are playing tricks on me. You wrote that it looked like a square dance had happened in that part of the field, but at first I thought you wrote "squirrel dance." Now THAT was a funny image in my mind!