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The Dogs of March

via Flickr Creative Commons, MemaNH

In March, coyotes stalk, chase and kill winter-weakened deer in the equivalent of "Lions & Gazelles." Hungry coyotes now take prey larger than their usual fare of small rodents. 

Coyotes breed in February. During March and April gestation, they select maternity dens where they'll birth pups in May. Coyotes do NOT hunt in large family packs or occupy dens in other seasons. Coyote breeding is timed to a seasonal abundance of food: deer are in weakened condition after burning winter fat reserves while traveling in snow on a meager diet of twigs, bark and buds. 

Find kill sites by listening for crow or jay chatter. These meat birds scavenge deer carcasses. Smaller carnivores including weasels, foxes and shrews visit deer kills, scattering frozen venison and bones while leaving identification tracks in the snow.

A typical fresh kill consists of ribs, spine, hide and fur. After successive nights, little is left except the gall bladder. Even deer hide and bones are consumed without waste. Small items are moved to secluded feeding locations or cached near nursery dens.

While often solitary in other seasons, evidence suggests family groups cooperate effectively to drive deer uphill into narrow ravines or steep talus slopes or along natural barriers including shorelines of rivers and lakes. The hunt appears well-planned - similar to lions driving gazelles into ambush.

The midnight yipping howls of excited coyotes under twinkling stars on cold March nights elicits a shudder. I imagine deer experience the same while sharing the woods with these "Dogs of March."

Naturalist Dave Anderson is Senior Director of Education for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, where he has worked for over 30 years. He is responsible for the design and delivery of conservation-related outreach education programs including field trips, tours and presentations to Forest Society members, conservation partners, and the general public.
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