Written by Jerry Engler Tuesday, 20 November 2012 16:10
Nobody involved with agriculture in Marion County seems to have much good to say about the coyote.
Neither do they speak well of the raccoon, opossum or skunk.
Even the professional ag advisers in the county said their expertise is limited to crop and livestock production, not to wild predators.
If you broaden the conversation to include birds of prey such as the hawk, they usually will acknowledge that hawks catch and consume many mice and other rodents that otherwise could get out of hand causing crop damage.
But if you limit the conversation to mammalian wildlife, the creatures above don’t get much positive credit. Yet in research data, Kansas State University scientists say the mouse is the No. 1 food item for coyotes—perhaps a good thing, unless you like mice and other grain-eating pests.
Mice also figure in the diets of raccoons, opossums and skunks, although raccoons especially are opportunistic about eating anything, the specialists said.
If you don’t want rattlesnakes around, they said, leave the opossums alone because they will eat snakes, and they are immune to rattlesnake venom.
In most conversations, attempts to get locals to say something good about these animals, especially the coyote, turns to whether people hunt or shoot them, or who they know who enjoys doing so.
Many cattle growers acknowledge they enjoy hearing coyotes yap and howl at night, but that’s probably because coyotes normally are unable to do anything to hurt animals as large as cattle, and they are part of western lore.
Charles Lee, K-State extension wildlife specialist, said a sheep producer who sees a coyote kill one of his lambs is pretty certain the coyote is an undesirable predator.
Lee said people who like to hunt rabbits, and happen to be fortunate enough to see a coyote catch a rabbit, also find the coyote undesirable.
Lloyd Fox, a Kansas wildlife biologist, said deer hunters often feel the same way because coyotes can reduce deer numbers by preying on fawns.
Conversely, he said, farm producers might see this as a positive influence of the coyote because of the damage to crops caused by feeding deer.
Fox said he would favor fewer coyote numbers in some parts of western Kansas, where they also may prey on the young of pronghorn antelope.
Mike Stika, sales manager for the Donahue Corp. at Durham, said he’s happy the company’s mascot dog, which roams freely through the grounds, office and buildings, and happily greets visitors, doesn’t leave the company fenced enclosure because she looks like a coyote. Her appearance might attract unwanted human attention in the outside world.
In its 2012 resolutions, the Kansas Farm Bureau states that the coyote is a predatory animal that people should be allowed to hunt, trap or otherwise kill at all times.
K-State researchers have noted it may be more important to concentrate only on removing problem coyotes that actually prey on desired farm animals.
The researchers said coyotes “actually will eat just about anything, including mice, rats, gophers, squirrels, mountain beavers, snakes, lizards, frogs, fish and birds.
“In the summer and fall, coyotes will eat grass, fruits and berries. Coyotes are also known to eat pet food, garbage, garden crops, livestock, poultry and pets.”
Researchers say coyotes sometimes increase the numbers of native songbirds by preying on feral cats.
Illinois and Iowa researchers note the coyote populations appear to be increasing throughout the United States, even to the East Coast with large populations becoming established in urban areas.
Research in Chicago, for instance, shows the city divided into highly populated coyote family areas with documented predation on rats, Canada geese eggs, mice and deer fawns. They found almost none of the expected consumption of garbage or domestic animals.
Most people in the city are unaware of the coyotes, they said, because of the animals’ elusive ways and nocturnal habits with places such as parks and cemeteries preferred for dens.
The coyotes also like to den in the ornamental shrub areas of parking lots, in culverts or easements between highways, and on golf courses.
In Massachusetts, researchers found that coyotes now live in family groups in every city except on offshore islands with most populations established only since the 1990s.
They said the family groups averaged five adults with their pups living in a 10-square mile territory.
Even if you could get rid of a specific coyote family in Kansas, the researchers say there are plenty of the elusive, quick animals to replace those gone.
It might be more profitable simply to appreciate the ones that are doing you some good, they said.