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For those of us who deplore Exurbia's encroachment on the wilderness, this is news on a par with the comebacks of the beaver and wild turkey. But the case of the coyote is different. The others were invited back, even coaxed. The coyote wasn't invited, and he never lived in the East before.
The sporadic appearance of a few coyotes in New York State during and just after World War II was ascribed to pups taken as pets to Pine Camp near Watertown by western recruits, or brought back from trips to the Coast by tourists. A wider view of all reports over a longer period points to a genuine migration of the northern coyote ("brush wolf") southeastward from upper Michigan and Ontario. It has been a move comparable to the northward shift of the gray fox and the opossum and to the southward march of the porcupine, which is now under way.
Back in the 1940s many of the specimens shot, trapped or poisoned on the sandy barrens and marginal farmlands below Adirondack Forest Preserve bore strong outward evidences of blood-crossing with domestic dogs. Cecil Gotts, the state trapper at Dolgeville, N.Y., who has taken more than 300 coyotes and coy-dogs in the past dozen years, showed me one litter he took near Trenton Falls whose rufous pelts clearly bespoke either Irish setter or red chow ancestry.
In later years such hybrids have become more rare, less obvious. True coyote characteristics have predominated in 80% of 120 carcasses examined by Dr. William Hamilton at Cornell University. The conclusion is that the coyotes have now established themselves and asserted their own blood's dominance.
Out trout fishing in the eastern wilds this spring and summer, or deer hunting next autumn, if you should meet up with a coyote or coy-dog, you can tell him from man's best friend by several points. The face is triangular and foxy, not long and wolfish. It is broad through the eyes, with large, sharp ears spaced widely, muzzle narrow and shallow, nose patch round and small. The upper lip, cheek, chest and belly are whitish, the back dark gray shading off into fulvous. The bushy tail is straight and never carried high. The footprint is narrower than a dog's, proportionately, with the two front toenails conspicuous. The coyote steps almost in line, like a fox, often putting a hind-foot in the print of the front.
Eastern coyotes mate in late January, usually for life. They whelp in ledges, caves or dug dens after 63 days of gestation. The males are dutiful providers until the pups, from four to a dozen, are grown. They travel in pairs and families rather than packs. They seldom "sing" in ululating chorus or solo as their western brethren do, but they yap enough in the evening to live up to their Latin name, Canis latrans (barking dog).
Coyotes and coy-dogs are capable of pulling down deer, especially snowbound starvelings, but they seldom do so when they can find smaller game—woodchucks, rabbits, squirrels, mice, moles—or carrion. They also consume birds, frogs, snakes, insects and grapes and other fruit. They haunt remote village dumps. Made bold by a hard winter they will move in to take poultry, piglets, sheep, even calves. A mangy, half-starved specimen killed this winter in Washington County, N.Y. was attacking cattle.
Their favorite ranges are the edges of old burns or man-made clearings in timber tracts, also outlying farms where hillside pastures support a few livestock. They run old tote roads, forest truck trails, railroad rights-of-way, deer paths along woodsy streams.
Trapping coyotes and coy-dogs is a rugged pursuit, for they are wilier than any fox. The bait that Cecil Gotts concocts is a horrid mishmash of decaying meat, glands and fish, scented with urine from a captive she-coyote in heat. He uses a circle of smoked traps buried lightly, staked heavily.