Wed Mar 2023

Coywolf!* Morning Winter

Most mornings this winter, I’d look out at first light and see fresh tracks in the snow. A coywolf had passed within feet of the house, often directly under a window, heading from the wooded area northwest of the pond (I surmise) to the street in front of the house.

The individual shown here was almost certainly the author of those tracks. My neighbors and I had seen it more than once, during daylight hours, cutting through our shared yard. Sadly, it seemed to suffer from a bad case of mange.

When first I spotted it through the window, it was already aware of me. I think my presence gave it pause. After surveying the scene for three minutes, it turned on its tail and returned whence it came.

(Note: If I’m not sure of an animal’s gender, I use the neuter pronoun, “it.”)

Coywolves were reported all over the neighborhood this past winter — not only lone individuals, but also a group of three (a family, I suspect). Two local residents, living a mile apart, each told me of seeing three, together, in his yard.

With the coming of spring, these furtive visitors melted away, along with the snow. No doubt they had ventured here, into this densely settled area, to scavenge for food. With snow on the ground, prey must have been scarce. Now, they’ve retreated to the suburbs, or beyond.

What is a coywolf? I admit I had never heard of such a creature before I saw a remarkable program, Meet the Coywolf, on PBS’s Nature, a few years ago. Not until I saw a rerun last January, however, did its full impact hit me. (You can watch the entire program here. You can also find a useful field guide here.)

What is a coywolf? The question is answered in the program’s introduction:

The coywolf, a mixture of western coyote and eastern wolf, is a remarkable new hybrid carnivore that is taking over territories once roamed by wolves and slipping unnoticed into our cities. Its appearance is very recent — within the last 90 years — in evolutionary terms, a blip in time. Beginning in Canada but by no means ending there, the story of how it came to be is an extraordinary tale of how quickly adaptation and evolution can occur, especially when humans interfere. Tag along as scientists study this new top predator, tracking it from the wilderness of Ontario’s Algonquin Park, through parking lots, alleys and backyards in Toronto all the way to the streets of New York City.

The photos are a bit soft, due to circumstances. I had to shoot quickly, and through a window; to make matters worse, I had to crop severely to bring the distant subject “closer.” The photos were taken between 8:39 and 8:42 on the morning of January 5, 2014.