Coyotes have been a part of the legends of the West ever since man began creating stories about this region. In Native American stories, the coyote is often portrayed as a trickster, and you could say he’s played the ultimate trick by surviving–and thriving–in humanized environment. You could call him the ultimate adapter, since he’s one of the few native animals that thrive in a urban or suburban environment.
Of course, coyotes still prefer open space, and we see them often around here–and not just at night. We’ve seen them on early morning runs, melting into the mist as soon as we get close, and even in the middle of the day, jogging through the vineyards. At first glance they may look like a shaggy, long legged mutt, but once you get closer, there’s no mistaking it for any kind of domestic dog. They look very much like smaller, leaner wolves–if you can watch them long enough to get a good look, since they tend to be very shy of humans.
There’s certainly plenty of rabbits and squirrels around here to keep them fed and of course they won’t hesitate to grab a cat or a dog if they can. We’re always careful to bring in our dogs at night, since we’ve heard stories of lone coyotes luring out dogs so that the entire pack can bring it down once it’s out in the open. Of course, that ingenuity in eating what ever they can has helped them be so successful in the face of increasing human encroachment.
One night we heard what must have been the entire coyote population of this area calling to one another. A coyote call starts as something like a dog’s howl, before twisting into a thing like a child’s cry. If there was ever a call to make ice run down your spine, it’s the call of a coyote. That night we heard dozens of them, calling to each other across miles, their unseen packs encircling us on all sides. Then the dogs started up, barking impotently behind their fences at their wild cousins’ freedom, And still the coyotes went on.
Then just as quickly as they started, they stopped, once more becoming the silent, unseen presence all around us, their calls a reminder that for every coyote we happened to glance, there were dozens more that we’d never see, only hear in the dark of the night.