Monday, November 17, 2008

Coyotes and Red-Tails and Owls, Oh My!

Now that most of the leaves are gone from the trees and the cold weather is creeping in, I'm noticing a return of the major winter predators to our homestead.

Last Thursday was a particularly interesting day. When I took our puppy Sunny for an energy-release walk out in the back pasture, I noticed coyote scat (droppings), both old and new. Three sets of scat, to be precise. I'm assuming the coyotes have moved in to feast on the hispid cotton rats and other rodents that are making such glorious sets of runways through our grass back there.

On our way back to the house, I looked up to see a pair of red-tailed hawks in the trees of the draw. We had a pair that seemed to nest in the area late last winter, so this may be the same pair returning. I haven't seen them for most of the summer; I'm excited to have them back.

Last of all, that night we heard a pair of great horned owls calling to each other from the draw. We've had barred owls in the area ever since we moved in almost 2 years ago, but this is the first time we've heard great horned owls.

About 2 weeks ago, I found the mutilated body of a barred owl in our front yard. I didn't examine it too closely at the time, because I didn't want Becker going back to it and helping me "dispose of it" in his own special way. When I went out the next morning, sans Becker, to take a closer look, it was gone. I suspect the coyotes feasted on it somewhere during the night.

At the time, I was trying to decide how the barred owl had died. It was obviously wounded around the face in some way, based on the raw flesh that I could see (and the facial features I couldn't see) from about 30 feet away. I was concerned that a neighbor might have shot it but, without looking at it more closely, that was pure speculation. Other thoughts that crossed my mind were that it had been hit by a car at night, or that it had somehow misjudged a stoop and collided hard with a guidewire on the telephone pole nearby. Now I suspect that it was a victim of the great horned owls moving in.

One of these days I'm going to collect some of the coyote scat and dissect it to see what animals they are feeding on. And I'll keep my eyes peeled for owl pellets, both so I learn where they are roosting and so that I can learn what they are feeding on too. Meanwhile, I'm just going to enjoy the sight of red-tailed hawks soaring during the day, and the sounds of coyotes howling and great horned owls hooting at night. More interesting layers in the ecosystem that is our slowly recovering yard.

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