Last updated: July 17. 2013 5:54PM - 198 Views
Bob Fala
Outdoors Columnist

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Venison, it’s what’s for dinner!

So says a recent coyote food habits study conducted by West Virginia University graduate student Geriann Albers. And yes, the study analyzed the stomach contents of some 276 carcasses and 693 scats, droppings or whatever you call it when a coyote does what a bear does in the woods. But again, it’s the white-tailed deer that comes in first in terms of both frequency of presence and volume within those yucky samples.

And in some small way, yours truly contributed. How, when the call for carcasses went out, I picked up a fresh road kill on U.S. 119 at Chapmanville and delivered it to WVDNR personnel at South Charleston, who got it to the researchers. The rest of the study specimens came from hunters, trappers and depredation control agents who did likewise.

The scats came from you know, routes walked by the researchers along ATV and other trails where the big dogs like to do their business.

In fact, coyote scats are one of the most commonly found along such byways just about anywhere in the Mountain State. That is, now that they’ve taken it over at about the same pace of Patton’s Third Army. Or at least it seemed that way

But before we jump to conclusions on the alleged killers of deer, keep in mind that the venison partaken includes the road kill café variety plus the varying leftovers of hunter killed and cleaned carcasses, winter kill and other natural deer mortalities all the way from disease to horn-locking for that matter. This doesn’t mean that coyotes can’t kill live deer. The study just has no way of separating one from the other.

With the venison from all the above sources accounting for nearly half of the coyote food by volume; it was followed by small mammals (mice) at 12 percent; squirrels and chipmunks at 8 percent; fruits and seeds at 7 percent and plant material at 7 percent. Livestock, mostly cattle and then sheep in that order, comprised only 4 percent by volume.

And remember just like for deer, the study does not separate scavenged livestock from those killed by coyotes. Most of the livestock remains occurred during the calving and lambing periods which likely includes some stillborn. Nevertheless, other studies indicated coyotes as major predators of lambs.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the study is what wasn’t found amongst the dinner remains of the wily coyotes. That livestock information is quite surprising to the low side even as these depredations can be sensational at times on a local level. The general paucity of other human related critters or “anthropogenics” as the researchers called it is also quite low in that domestic dog and cat remains were rarely found.

Though a wildlife critter, the same surprise to the low side came in for groundhogs, which were rarely indicated. In Illinois farm country, groundhogs would very likely replace squirrels on the menu just as the researchers in this study indicated that the critters adapted to seasonal and regional food availability.

It’s for that apparent intelligence and adaptability that the wily old coyote is here to stay at its new home in West Virginia. What’s that yipping I hear, “Almost heaven.”

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