In my younger days, I did a paper route in downtown Tallahassee. It is amazing what you can see at four in the morning-foxes, opossums, raccoons. And then there was a coyote running across Blairstone Road. A coyote, here?
Since then, I've mostly seen coyotes in wild areas. On the day before New Year's in 2010, I came across a coyote attempting to swim the Little River, a tributary of the Wacissa. He didn't see me because I was semi-concealed taking bird photos. The coyote tested the water several times before finally taking the leap. I took a series of photos while it made a mad dash to the opposite shore. Alligators love canines, and I'm sure coyote knew this.
At the St. Marks Refuge a couple of years ago, I was driving on Lighthouse Road on a rainy evening looking for endangered flatwoods salamanders crossing the road. I didn't see any salamanders, but a coyote leaped in front of my car and loped ahead for a half mile. I took a photo through the windshield, my headlights illuminating the wild creature, and given the growing darkness and fog of the surrounding marshlands, the image could have easily graced the cover of a spooky novel.
While most of my coyote sightings have been of lone animals, when I hear coyote at night, I know they are not always solitary creatures. They sing in unison, and they have awakened me on many a Florida camping trip. I feel like I'm on the western range and someone should be strumming folk songs like Gene Autry. I rarely see the coyote packs, but it's obvious they are there.
How many coyotes are in Florida? There is no way of knowing, but they have been seen in every Florida county. Ranchers will tell you they can be a nuisance around livestock, especially sheep and calves. Some say it is easier to control mosquitoes than coyotes. The wild canines arrived in Florida from western states about a half century ago, perhaps following a trail blazed by armadillos. A few coyotes were introduced into Florida in 1925 for hunting with dogs. It is safe to say that coyotes are here to stay.
In the wild, coyotes are opportunistic feeders, eating berries, nuts, small mammals, birds, snakes, lizards and frogs. They normally avoid people, but they can attack pets such as cats and small dogs. They have filled the niche of red wolves that were exterminated in Florida by the 1920s.
Red wolves are making a comeback of sorts. The Tallahassee Museum is part of a breeding and recovery program that has helped to bring red wolves back from the brink of extinction. It is great fun to watch the long-legged canines trot around their large pen. Wolf pups from the museum and other locations are trained on the St. Vincent Island National Wildlife Refuge along the Forgotten Coast. Once ready, they are brought to the Alligator River Refuge along the northeastern coast of North Carolina and released into the wild. Like the coyote, red wolves primarily feed on small mammals. Will wolves someday be released on the Florida mainland and try to reestablish their niche? There's no way of telling, but it would be fun to hear wolf howls joining coyote songs in the Florida wilds.