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Lake County has an abundance of wild critters and they range from as large as a bear to as small as a squirrel. Most of time the wild critters aren’t seen because they roam around at night. The past 20 years has seen a dramatic behavioral change in wild animals as they have moved from the wild into our backyards where they have learned to live around humans. The reason they have become our neighbors is because we offer them a food source — garbage, cat and dog food. To a wild animal food is the gift of life.
One animal this very common, seldom seen but often heard is the coyote. What many people don’t know is that a large number of coyotes have taken up residence next to homes in the county. The coyote is mostly a nocturnal animal and rarely seen. I live just outside the city limits of Lakeport and ta family of coyotes has lived in my area for years. On just about any night around midnight you can hear them howling. At one time local farmers kept the coyote population down because many of the farmers were sheep ranchers and the coyotes preyed on the sheep. The ranchers would set out traps and snares for the coyotes, which were so abundant that many of the farmers would kill 20-30 a year.
Coyotes are classified as a “varmint or non-game” by the DFW and can be legally hunted all year without a daily limit. In fact, there are even coyote shooting contests in some areas. Hunters often use special calls that imitate the call of a rabbit in distress. When the coyote comes within range they shoot it.
Several times I have had a coyote approach me when I have been hunting wild turkeys and making a call. At one time ranchers controlled the coyote population by using poison guns. A bait would be attached to the end of the gun and when the coyote licked the bait it would set off the gun, which fired a burst of the poison into the coyote’s face. Death was nearly instantaneous. Thirty years ago the state outlawed all leg-hold traps and poison guns, and the result is the coyote population has exploded in many areas.
They aren’t a large animal. An adult coyote weighs up to 30 pounds although most weigh around 20 pounds. The largest coyote ever recorded weighed 80 pounds. Their life expectancy is only about seven years. Despite their small size they are deadly hunters and can kill a large dog. Their primary prey are rabbits and other small animals. They are deadly to deer fawns. They live in caves or even beneath dead trees and logs, In the past 10 years many of the coyotes have taken up residence beneath sheds or outbuildings in backyards. They do this because of the abundant food supply. Despite being small they can present a danger to humans. There has never been an attack on humans in Lake County but in Southern California there have been several recorded attacks on children. A few years ago a coyote pulled a baby out of a stroller and tried to carry it off. The parent drove off the coyote and the child ended up with bite marks.
Coyotes have been seen within the city limits of Lakeport and Clearlake. A few years a coyote was spotted in Library Park in Lakeport.
The domestic dog came from coyotes and they have been on earth for thousands of years. They are one wild animal that will be here long after humans are gone. Actually, they are an amazing animal and are fun to study.