Keep In Your Pets: It is Predator Season

This juvenile coyote was playing with his litter mate at the Santa Rosa Preserve in plain site of the road. Youth just aren’t cautious, no matter what species. Photo by Miranda Kennedy

We are entering the time of year when outdoor cats, small dogs, free-range chickens and any small pet go missing.  Pre-adult (aka teenage) coyotes from this year’s early litters are just as hungry and just as fearless as human teens, and they are looking to fill growling stomachs during the day and night. (Besides, a study by University of Nebraska found that feral cats are responsible for the extinction of 33 species of birds worldwide.  Keep your cats contained!) Can’t blame coyotes because this is their land.  Preditors are an important part of our ecosystems and the removal of them have devastating effects on our ecosystems, all the way down to the plants in a process called trophic cascade.  During this heat wave I’ve been sleeping with windows open.  At about 5:15 am I heard the hens going crazy down in their Fowl Fortress .  Throwing on my white robe and slippers I ran down the hill towards the coop.  Just before I reached it, a young handsome coyote came around the corner behind the compost bins and we nearly collided.  He was across the property and over the chain link fence in a heartbeat.  The hens were safe because the Fortress is wired up both sides and across the top, and the wire goes into the dirt.  However if the coyote were to have time to dig he could have been inside.  The hens were so upset that they didn’t lay right for several days.  Miss Amelia, the leader, was on top of the chicken tractor screeching away.  Chickpea and even formidably-built Lark were on top of the smaller coop.  These three survived the coyote attack that killed two of their friends last winter (pre-Fowl Fortress).  The two adopted Rhode Island Reds were standing by the door wondering what all the fuss was about; they’ve seen our two elderly, partially deaf and blind dogs walk past all the time.  General Mischief, whose probably only working park is his sniffer, lumbered excitedly around the property following the coyote’s path.  At night I began to lock the hens inside the chicken tractor where they roost  inside the Fortress, so that they’d have two lines of defense.

 The next morning I arose to chicken screeching even earlier, and ran down there to see a coyote coming from around the back of the Fortress.  I knew where it would jump the fence so I ran in that direction, which gave it quite a surprise as it had to pass me to get there.  I stood at the fenceline brandishing a rake that I had caught up on the way down the hill, dressed in slippers and long white robe, shouting threats into the neighbor’s backyard like a lunitic.  One thing about growing older is that eccentric behavior is excused.

I wasn’t about to let the coyotes believe they could hunt within my fence.  The next morning I was up and out just after five, me and General, my rake and my white robe, over which I’d pulled a red jacket because the morning was misty.  I stood at the fenceline, pulling some ragweed to not waste time.  In about five minutes I felt that they were coming and stood waiting.  Sure enough, halfway across the neighbor’s property were some bushes and from around behind them trotted a coyote.  He looked pretty jaunty and sure of himself until he turned and caught an eyeful of me.  I shook my rake and he seemed to shake his head disbelievingly.  Then he cut out the way he had come.  Victory for me!

I collected dog poo and dumped it along the fenceline, and stuck clumps of fur left from shaving General’s thick coat into the top holes in the fence.  I love the country life.

Of course I didn’t bring a camera on my morning patrols. This coyote was in what is now the Bee Garden, several years ago. He looks worse for wear. Photo by Miranda Kennedy.

For the next few mornings I’d roll out of bed, motivate Sophie and General to get up and go outside, and I’d patrol the fence and make my presence known at the entry point.  Although I was sleep-deprived (with the late darkness I tend to only get dinner at about 9 and to bed by 11) I managed to to get some impressive gardening done, especially since I changed into old clothes before heading out.  There was no more coyote activity, at least none that the hens told me about. 

The other night the pack was running down in the streambed and were yipping and howling in communication.  I think it was just past midnight, but I went out there just to make sure there were no visitors.

Sophie is a 14 year old rescued pit bull mix I’ve had since she was about a year old.  I knew that she had run with coyotes as a youngster when her owner let her loose, and I never understood why she hadn’t been attacked.  Her back legs don’t work well, and she’s feeling her age.  She used to climb the chain link fence and roam the neighborhood.  She used to kill cats, chase rabbits, keep the mice and rats out of the garage where they used to sleep.  For the last few years it has been all peace and love with Sophie.  She not only seems to be afraid of some of the cats in the house, but would walk past the ranging hens without putting any of her thoughts into action.  I once went to wake her up when she was still sleeping outside, and a mouse ran out from under her.  I’d disturbed its warm cozy sleep. 

So this morning I let out the dogs when General woke me up and tried to go back to bed.  It never works because when General is done he rakes the metal security door with his nails until I let him in again.  Sure enough, in about five minutes he was demanding attention again so I put on my robe and went out to do the hens.  I was just past the driveway when I caught sight of Sophie on one of the garden paths close to the house.  She had a friend with her.  A coyote.  Sophie was just turning away from it to walk back to the house and the coyote was looking around at the bushes,  hopeful for a rabbit breakfast until it saw me and scooted away.  The fur was raised a little on Sophie’s back, but not all the way.  I made sure he was clear of the property, and checked the hens who were still double locked in.  Then I had a few words with Sophie about the choice of friends she asked over!

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