Sections

Weather Forecast

Close

Coyote mating season underway

A coyote stands at attention in a field. This time in winter is their breeding season. Photo courtesy Larry Weber

Though it maybe seemed like it would never end, the cold two weeks of the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 did end and we received quite a turn of weather. The frigid days left for a while to give us some thawing days. Indeed, when I walked outside during a morning when the temperature was 25 degrees below zero, I did not expect that a walk on the afternoon of the following day would be 50 degrees warmer, but that is what happened.

Almost every year, we experience a change in January when the temperature reaches up to or near 30 degrees — a break in winter that has become known as the January thaw. Maybe this was it; the 30 degrees below zero of the first week became the 30-plus degrees of the following week. It was interesting to note some of the changes in local nature during this respite.

I have observed that when we feed birds during the cold season, we largely do it for our own benefits. The birds do make meals of our handouts. When I see these avian neighbors in their fluffed-up feathery coats in a subzero morning, I think that I am helping them through the winter.

But watching them gives me a feeling companionship that I believe is the real reason that we feed them in winter. This became apparent as I watched the feeders during the recent cold snap and the following mild weather. In the chilly days, my feeder hosted the usual delightful dozen: chickadees, blue jays, two kinds of nuthatches, four kinds of woodpeckers, pine grosbeaks, redpolls, goldfinch and a lone junco that is trying to winter here. They lived up to their name and were a delight to watch. However, with the onset of the milder days, things changed a bit.

Instead of the usual dozen kinds, only about half showed up and the ones that did arrive were not in the numbers as they have been in the cold. Apparently, they went elsewhere for food; they did not need the feeders and went in search of food away from the seed meals. But a few other bird changes were here, too.

The wild turkeys present early in the season then left as the frigid days moved in, and returned in the warmer times — still with the same appetites. They quickly devoured anything that they could find.

Shortly after dark, a barred owl called near the house, also quiet in the cold.

And one day, I looked out to see a small brown bird creeping up a nearby tree. Appropriately named, a brown creeper was going up the trunk seeking insects still present in cracks. There was an insect feeder in January, but they are here nearly every year. And there was more.

On the snow during these mild winter days were some insects. A couple of crane flies — one with wings, one without — use these days to move over the snow surface instead of beneath, where they usually live in winter. So too, are a few spiders. But looking on the snow, I saw more.

There seems to be more tracks now. The deer, squirrels, hare, mice, shrews and members of the weasel family left their marks at many sites. But it was the trails of the canines — fox and especially coyote — that I took a closer look at. They were very active.

Foxes and coyotes are common neighbors throughout the winter, and it was not the recent thaw that brought them out. They were responding to other changes. These January days are their breeding season. Since we are cold and a long way from spring, it seems a bit weird that this month and the start of the next would be the breeding time of coyotes. I have been seeing lots of their tracks lately, but now I note more than just their footprints in the snow.

At sites such as clumps of grass or small shrubs, there is also a bit of yellow on the snow. The coyotes have been using urine as a scent marker. The females trying to attract males and males tell others that this territory is taken. Once observed, it becomes quite easy to see these yellow markers — "no trespassing signs". (Some refer to it as "canine p-mail.")

A breeding season at this time of winter still seems strange. Daylight now is a little more than nine hours, but getting longer each day, and yes, there will be a spring. And yes, there will be a new family of coyote pups at that time.

If these new additions to the family are to grow to be adults by summer, they need a spring birthday. And the birth at that time follows a gestation of about nine weeks, and so, these January days are the breeding time of coyotes. This explains their activity in the cold.

Cold and snow will return. The wild canines need to hunt for meals in addition to proclaiming territorial sites, and so, they continue their winter wandering.

During my early morning walks in the darkness of the pre-dawn, I will sometimes hear the yipping of local coyotes. And at some regular use sites that I call "coyote highways," I will continue to see their scent markings.

The winter will last for a while, but these canines are making a move toward spring.

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.