The tracks above were found on the pavement on the north side of the Wetlands here at the Museum. The tracks came from the edge of the muddy water, onto the pavement and continued directly across the path and into another wet area on the other side of the path. The animal had apparently been walking along the mud at the edge of the water and decided to cross the path. It looks to me like a coyote’s tracks.
The tracks are much too large to be that of a gray fox, a common sight here at the Museum. Fox tracks are about an 1.5 inches long, coyote about 2.5 inches long.
What about a dog? Dogs come in all sizes. Why isn’t this a dog’s tracks?
Good question. Dogs do come in many sizes, from tiny tea cup varieties to the nearly rideable Great Dane. Most dogs, though, do not travel in direct routes from one place to another. They turn here, sniff there, stop, run, walk, turn and sniff again. In other words, their tracks are often zigzagging trails across the landscape. The tracks in the photo made a direct line across the path.
There are exceptions, of course, but most dogs are happy-go-lucky creatures who are out on their strolls for the mere pleasure of it. Coyotes are more concerned with getting from food source to food source along the shortest route possible.
There are other ways to distinguish dog tracks from coyote tracks, like how sharp the nails are (dogs, especially city dogs, usually have dull nails due to their frequent walking on sidewalks or roads) or how much free area there is between the pads of the feet. The tracks in the photos are on pavement which doesn’t show those features well. Although the tracks are “good” tracks, the fact that the animal’s feet were very wet when the tracks were laid down caused some splashing around of the mud.
What other evidence is there of coyotes in our midst. Well, Ranger Rock saw one eyeball-to-eyeball a few weeks ago in Catch the Wind. I’d seen one on Stadium Road, just a few hundred yards north of the Wetlands, months ago. And, I saw a coyote scramble across the parking lot on the west side of the Museum more than a few years ago.
Let’s face it, coyotes are everywhere these days. Essentially a prairie dwelling, western species, in the past several hundred years they’ve spread as far as Newfoundland, Central America and into Alaska. They are very adaptable creatures and have filled niches left open by the extirpation of, or have out-competed, other predators in the new lands that they now occupy.
The coyotes are no strangers in this land. You may not see them very often but they’re here in more numbers than you may imagine, and are probably not going away anytime soon.