Sunday, January 20, 2013

Who let the Dog out?

Casually glancing out of the front window, I wondered which of our dogs had jumped out of the dog-run this time. He looked just so familiar.  Cody's color, Frodo's ears, Laika's shape....

Well, none of our dogs, but he turned and walked very confidently towards the house. There is a bird bath and a place with bird seeds under our big Ironwood tree.

That's a huge, well-fed coyote, Canis latrans. According to some literature, Coyotes found in low deserts and valleys weigh about 20 pounds, less than half of their mountain kin, who can weigh up to 50 pounds. Desert coyotes are light gray or tan with a black tip on the tail. The description at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum allows for at least 35 pounds, but I always thought that that referred mainly to their own over-fed specimen.

Coyote, Canis latrans
 This individual is big, though, otherwise I wouldn't have mistaken him for one of my dogs who are all between 50 and 60 pounds. We keep them lean.
January is mating season for the coyotes, and I lately I have been especially careful not to run into playful couples when I'm driving. Since his first visit, I have seen this guy around several times. When he first appeared during last weeks hard freeze he seemed to be searching for water closer to the house after he found the birdbath down the driveway frozen solid. But I have also found chicken feathers along his trail, so he has found a rich, but dangerous source of food in the neighborhood....

Sorry for the for-shortened legs. I was shooting down from the window
    Our desert coyotes are usually quite solitary, there doesn't seem to be enough food for larger groups and the prey animals are small, so hunting in packs brings no advantage. The only time to see more than two individuals on our property is in late summer. Last year after a relatively productive monsoon a lot of young rabbits, quail, pocket mice, lizards and toads were hiding under the burr sage bushes that finally had some leaves again. One afternoon when I was standing quietly in a dry wash not far from the house, there was suddenly so much noisy crushing and stomping in the brush that I was sure that the neighbors' cattle had finally broken through our fence. But then three or four nearly grown coyotes appeared, chasing each other in the blissful abandonment of playing puppies. They looped around me without noticing me at all, followed the wash to the dog-run, seemed to shortly hesitate as if looking for more company, and then took the fun back into the State Land.  At night they were back, teasing the dogs with howls and yodels.

Coyotes are often watching us when we are walking
  There is no great animosity between our dogs and the coyotes. I have seen them run right past each other without any interaction, even with pointedly averted heads. At other times, Cody has chased them out of his territory, like he would do with any male canine.   

 This is one of my earliest Arizona watercolors, after a coyote encounter at Gates Pass in the Tucson Mountains. I was still so fascinated with chollas, ocotillos, prickly pears and volcanic dikes that they all got equal consideration and sharp focus in my painting. Even the dreaded buffelgrass got its due (I didn't know anything about it then).


  1. Ah, what a beautiful animal! I rarely see coyotes any more, but I used to run into one a couple times a month around Glenn and Columbus as I walked to the bus stop.

  2. It looks like there is a Canine (maybe a Fox) of sorts behind the tree above your black dog (Frodo?). Could this be the one you mentioned in the caption? Your dogs are well mannered; my boy isn't nearly as rational.

  3. Excellent dramatic build up, here, with a lovely artistic finale!
    You do live such an interesting and eventful life down there.