A New Canid In Town

By Derek Stoner, Conservation Project Coordinator and Dave Pro, Land Steward

A Red Fox visits a bait station on February 24, 2010 at 1:19am.

The handsome Red Fox is the most-common wild canid in this region, and encountered in a wide variety of habitats.   In the spring, red foxes are busy feeding their kits and are frequently observed out on their hunting forays. 

There is a relatively new addition to the wild canine community, a secretive mammal that is doing an excellent job of living “under the radar.”   The Eastern Coyote is the new canid in town, and we’d like to introduce you to this interesting and secretive animal.

Over the past few years, we’ve found evidence of coyotes at Ashland Nature Center, Burrows Run Preserve, Flint Woods Preserve, and other places in northern Delaware.  Tracks, scat, and fractured deer bones indicated the presence of this large predator, and sporadic sightings by staff naturalists led us to attempt to document a coyote on camera. 

A Coyote visits the bait station on February 24, 2010, at 12:46am.

After Dave noticed large linear tracks in the snow, he surmised that a coyote could be travelling through the area.  To confirm a coyote’s presence, we  utilized the same scientific technique that mammal biologists employ to document elusive nocturnal animals.

Dave  set up the motion-sensing camera to focus on an elevated bait station located in a  young tulip forest along a stream corridor.  Attaching the bait to a tree prevented vultures and small mammals from quickly consuming the meat.  For the first week only red foxes were caught on camera, all at night. 

The coyote cautiously circled the bait for several minutes each visit.

The coyote spent 37 minutes at the bait on the morning of February 23, between 3:52 and 4:29am.  Returning the next morning, the coyote spent a total of 35 minutes over the course of two separate visits.  Each time, the images show that it consumed at least 1-2 pounds of meat.

A sensitive nose leads a coyote to its food, and they eat a wide variety of animal and plant matter.

State furbearer biologist Joe Rogerson says these are the first trail camera images of a coyote in Delaware.  He estimates this coyote to be about 35 pounds(in comparison to the 15 pound fox).  Rogerson has written an article about the current status of coyotes in Delaware:  http://www.fw.delaware.gov/Hunting/Pages/Coyotes.aspx

The Eastern Coyote is a very different creature from its western relatives, and recent research by Dr. Roland Kays(New York State Museum) best explains the current theory explaining the colonization of the northeast by coyotes:

The dramatic expansion of the geographical range of coyotes over recent decades is partly explained by changes to the landscape and local extinctions of wolves, but hybridization may have facilitated their movement.  DNA data from 686 eastern coyotes and measurements of 196 skulls helps explain their movements into the region.  Coyotes in eastern Canada bred with wolves and then migrated south into New England, while pure “western” coyotes migrated eastward from the Ohio Valley into Pennsylvania.   The result of these two migrations has led to a larger form of canid now known as the Eastern Coyote, occupying a portion of the niche left vacant by wolves.

Ears alert, a coyote inspects the bait.

Understanding that large predators stir emotions and fear  in some people, it is important to remember that the whole ecosystem of the Eastern Seaboard has changed dramatically.  When colonists killed off all the wolves, mountain lions, and black bears, the loss of these predators created a major shift in animal diversity.  

Now, as coyotes gain a toehold and expand their range in the eastern United States, we can marvel at their adaptability and will to survive in a changing landscape.

12 thoughts on “A New Canid In Town”

  1. Sandy Dennison-James

    Thanks for the fantastic work confirming their presence. Hooray for another deer predator!

  2. Just at daybreak on February 13,2010 I saw two coyotes in the Red Clay Watershed. We had over 2 feet of snow on the ground at the time and they were were able to run on top of it.

    Jim Jordan

  3. I actually saw a coyote in Brandywine Creek State Park last year on the hillside along Rocky Run around 7 PM on a weeknight. Too big for a fox and definitely not a dog, I was sure it was a coyote. Glad someone got some definitive proof of their existence in Delaware.

    Bill Schultz

  4. Sunday evening I drove to the (former) College of Marine Studies on New Rd in Lewes to see the new wind turbine. In the brush we spotted two young deer. Not far away, we saw the oddest animal, with a slender head , neck and torso, with bushy tail. We made a noise to startle it, and it quickly turned and ran away. It looked like a super sized fox. Now, from these photos, I can see it was a coyote.

    This solves a scary event that my son and nephew experienced last July. Our house is near the turbine, perhaps several thousand feet away. The boys one evening were walking down our driveway in the dark, when an animal they described as similar to the coyote in this article, apparently chased them. It was menacing. My nephew leaped over our fence for safety and my son made his way to a gate. My son still talks about it. Can coyotes become aggressive?

  5. Chris: I have not heard that Eastern Coyotes are aggressive towards people. They usually run away as fast as they can if they are startled by a person and stay very hidden during the daytime. Joe

  6. Not afraid of the other animals I have roaming around my yard, daytime and night, but now I will be afraid to go out into my back yard for wood at night!

  7. was walking on fowlers beach at sunset. about thirty to forty foxes were walking on the ridge of a sand dune following me. that’s when i turned around and went back to my truck and turned the lights on and saw that they were coyotes. foxes don’t travel in packs. i could not believe that there were so many coyotes and i have to admit i was a little scared. these coyotes were not one bit afraid of me they followed me the whole time.

  8. Mark, this is very exciting. I saw one very early (6 AM) in Feb 2012 in Hockessin DE…then recently late at night (2:00 am) we saw one recently near Kennett Square, PA near our bird feeders….and it wasn’t a fox. we knew it was much too large. I think I just may have to wonder down towards Fowler Beach!

    I love Coyotes. They are vibrant, adaptive creatures.

  9. Great images, thanks for posting. We had at least 2 coyotes on our property in Westwoods Development off Mendehall Mill Rd this morning.

  10. I spotted two on September 24, 2013 @ 6 am in Hockessin, off of mendenall road. I either spooked them upon going to my car in the morning or they were chasing one another. Either way I got a close up look at them as they ran across my drive way less than 10 feet away. Come to think of it they must have been preoccupied chasing each other, since they were running towards my car and across my drive way where I was standing. Amazing!

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