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Frozen bay comes in handy for coyotes

By Freddy Moyano

Prairie wolf, brush wolf, little wolf, American jackal, coyote – regardless of the name, these furry members of the Canidae family are no stranger to Northeast Wisconsin.

Known for their loud calls, its scientific name canis latrans, which translates to “barking dog,” directly references the many vocalizations they produce.

Yips, barks and howls, coyotes use sounds to communicate, as well as scents and visual signals.

Shy during daylight, yet opportunistic when it comes to eating, coyotes are quick to change their diet habits depending on weather and area conditions. 

Coyotes hunt rabbits, deer and foxes, as well as distracted swans or cranes ashore or on ice – all of which are abundant in Northeast Wisconsin.

Insects, snakes and fruits are not to be discarded from their long menu list either.

Much like wolves, also a member of the canidae family, do, in the fall and winter seasons coyotes effectively hunt in packs.

Though even in those seasons, coyotes won’t hesitate taking solo trips to remote areas for the sake of survival.

Icy highway

As the Bay of Green Bay begins to freeze in late December, it is not unusual to spot a coyote or two in the distance near the lower bay islands or even north of Oconto, often during early morning hours or at dusk. 

Coyotes like to use the frozen bay to reach Door County from the west shores and vice versa.

Food is a main reason for this, either because ice fishers leave edibles behind or out in the open, or because a coyote from the Green Bay area might look for more bountiful squirrel, deer or wild turkey presence closer to Dyckesville or Sturgeon Bay.

The other obvious reason is the faster passage enabled by thick ice and snow drifts carved by chilly bay winds.  

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR), coyotes are not the only mammals using the bay as a “highway” to cross back and forth.

Their larger cousins do as well.

One of the wolves they monitor, thanks to GPS tracking technology, crossed from the Upper Peninsula to Brussels in Door County a couple of winters ago.

More impressive yet, this same wolf completed this same roundtrip up to three times in the same winter.

Coyotes vs. wolves

For the average eye, it can be easy to mistake coyotes with wolves.

When seen from a distance on the icy bay, as has been my case in the last five years, there could be almost no recognizable difference.

At closer range, the reality is adult coyotes weigh 25-40 pounds, whereas wolves average 80-100 pounds.

In spite of their different size, coyotes and wolves share 96% of the same DNA.

Coyotes are actually offspring of wolves that became their own species about two million years ago. 

While it is a rare occurrence, coyotes can be on the menu for wolves, especially when territorial issues arise, where coyotes invade an area patrolled by wolf packs.

Wolves prefer wooded areas to operate, whereas coyotes like suburban open areas, although not as close to humans as red foxes.

Coyotes rarely attack humans.

The DNR said the most effective way for humans to prevent coyote attacks is to avoid feeding them directly or indirectly.

Yelling at a coyote to back off is the best defense in the rare event someone is attacked.

The 411 on coyotes

Wisconsin coyotes begin mating once they reach one or two years old. 

The mating season happens between January and March.

Female coyotes are pregnant anywhere from 58-65 days, and on average give birth to groups of six pups, called litters. 

According to the DNR, coyotes live in every Wisconsin county, with a statewide population estimated at 17,000-20,000.

Surveys and sightings reported by DNR staff, and the public, indicate the coyote population is stable in most areas of the state, increasing in number in southern and western portions.

Coyotes may be hunted year-round with the appropriate license, though the trapping season is restricted.

Freddy Moyano, an award-winning wildlife filmmaker based in Green Bay, is a columnist for The Press Times. More of his work can be found on instagram.com/freddymoyanoofficial.

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