September 25-28, 2017
When wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park more than twenty years ago, coyotes were present in large numbers. They are competitors; and since then, wolves have dominated their shared niche by reducing the coyote population by roughly fifty per-cent. It is well known that coyotes keep their distance from wolf packs.
We watched a couple of coyotes barely out of sight of a distant pack of wolves that had retreated with full stomachs from their kill. All the while, the two coyotes looked over their shoulders, and even momentarily scouted from a nearby mound to locate the pack and confirm they were not sneaking up upon them. So, if conditions are right, coyotes will still move in on wolf-killed prey and feed on the remains despite the risks. Because wolves are intolerant of coyotes, they will kill them rather than compete with them.
The coyotes in Yellowstone that we could photograph appeared to have figured out it is safer to hunt close to peopled areas, and distant from wolf packs. We happened upon a pair of them just off a main road in Haydn Valley. A younger coyote closest to us hunted for voles below the crusted snow.
It could hear its targeted prey under the snow, and pinpointing it by sound only, it blindly pounced on it.
Within just a few minutes, this coyote succeeded in catching prey several times.
One can imagine how small mammal populations would be hit hard by an over-population of coyotes.
An older coyote moved along a nearby stream; it seemed warier of us but not particularly intimidated.
A couple of days later, we saw what we believe was the same older coyote of the previous shoot. She was actively hunting for rodents; again, she pounced at the sound of its prey beneath the crusty snow.