Posts Tagged ‘coyote’


Halfway through February! We are well along on our journey through winter. Every day, the sun sets a little later and it is cheering to still have daylight at six in the evening. Still, the view out the front door is daunting. It is hard to believe that the July garden, pictured below, is just a few months away.


This annual transformation from green abundance to snowy slumber, and then back again, is like a miracle, amazing to observe. Still, in February, the snowy days drag on relentlessly.


I went out and measured the snow depth in one of the passageways cleared by the snowblower. We have about 16 to 18 inches of snow right now. Certainly, the plants will be glad of this deep blanket because temperatures have been brutal, with a frosty wind making -20C and lower temperatures even more biting.


Another annual miracle is that tiny birds can survive these punishing temperatures. I stock the bird feeders daily, and in return, I am rewarded with a view of their comings and goings. I put out peanuts, both shelled and unshelled, and large stiped sunflower seed for the blue jays. They watch for me, and when I venture out to the feeder, a shriek goes up. With a whirl of wings, a flock of these noisy, clamourous, beautiful birds descends upon the feeder.


A steady stream of busy chickadees attends to the two silo feeders stocked with black oiled sunflower seed. I often fill these feeders twice in a day to meet demand.


A mixed seed combination attracts a variety of birds to the platform feeder and the driveway. There are American Tree sparrows, juncos, redpolls, goldfinches, mourning doves and a few cardinals. Adding a few crusts of bread attracts a pair of crows, who, like the blue jays, watch for my arrival.


A pair of suet feeders attract a number of Downy and Hairy woodpeckers, but recently we had a first: a visit from a large Pileated Woodpecker.


Last winter, there was an unusual movement of Snowy Owls south of their usual range. This year, I have spotted just one, this female, perhaps the same one that I saw last year, who favors the top of a hydro post to look out over the fields.


Animal activity is not so conspicuous. However, I did see this trio of muskrats early in the winter, just before the river froze over for the season.


This unfortunate short-tailed weasel, dressed in an ermine-white winter coat, was found on the driveway one morning. These little carnivours are reportedly quite common in Ontario, but it is unusual to see one. They travel and hunt mostly at night, in areas with good cover, where they seek out small prey such as mice and voles, amphibians and bird eggs or nestlings. They are reputed to be fearsome, fierce hunters.


My most surprising sighting of the winter was this coyote. I spotted it one day as I was driving home along the St. Lawrence River. It was far out on the ice, looking back to shore. As I watched, it made up its mind to travel on, and set out across the frozen water, leaving Canada and heading toward the American shore.


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Back in September, I was lucky enough to get a few photos of a coyote that was spotted in a hayfield east of here. I was therefore quite interested in an interview I heard recently on Bob McDonald’s Quirks and Quarks on CBC Radio on October 3rd. Bob was speaking with Dr. Roland Kays, Curator of Mammals at the New York State Museum about Kays’ research on eastern coyotes. His paper, Rapid adaptive evolution of northeastern coyotes via hybridization with wolves, co-authored with Abigail Curtis and Jeremy Kirchman, appears in Biology Letters.

Coyotes (Canis latrans) are a western species. It wasn’t until 1920 that the first coyotes began to make their way into Ontario. Coyotes expanded their eastern range on two fronts, with one set travelling east from Minnesota via a route north of the Great Lakes into Ontario, while a second front continued east south of the Great Lakes. Kays and his partners studied the mtDNA from 686 eastern coyotes and measured 196 skulls. They found evidence that coyotes on the northern front hybridized with wolves as their expansion brought them into contact with their larger relatives, while the coyotes of the southern front did not. The hybrid northern coyotes found in Ontario are larger in size, have larger skulls and exhibit greater sexual dimorphism (a wolf trait) than is found in the non-hybrid coyotes that moved into New York and Pennsylvania

They suggest that hybridization allowed the northern coyotes to better exploit the niche left vacant by extirpated wolves. The larger skulls of these coyotes allowed them to better take advantage of the booming deer population, resulting in a colonization rate 5 times more rapid than that experienced by coyotes to the south. Hybridization is thus a conduit by which the genetic variation of an extirpated species, the wolf, has contributed to the success of a recently-arrived species and by which wolf genetics have been reintroduced into their former range.

You can listen to the interview on this Quirks & Quarks podcast. The coyote segment begins at the 42:40 minute point.


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Coyote, spotted in hayfield




Coyote retreat

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