Canada's Little Wolves
By Don Maclean

I was out early one morning last week cleaning snow off the truck before leaving for work. It was still dark and coyotes were serenading me from the woods along the field across from my house. I stayed outside for a few minutes listening to the yips, yaps, barks and howls. It was quite a concert. I know one coyote can make a lot of noise but this sounded like several of them. It was quite entertaining. If they were hunting it was a lot less entertaining for the rabbit, deer or whatever they were after. However February is mating time so it may have been a love struck male singing to his girlfriend.

Any discussion about coyotes in Eastern Canada is bound to bring up some strong feelings on the subject. Especially among deer hunters who feel the animal has wrecked havoc on deer herds in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. On Newfoundland the concern is over caribou, and the impact this new predator is having on calves. Coyotes in Eastern Canada are actually filling an ecological niche in the area's ecosystem which was once filled by wolves. Many people are unaware that there were once wolves roaming Eastern Canada. They were never numerous, for example researchers suggest that most wolves found in Nova Scotia came here the same way the coyotes did, from New Brunswick. However, they were plentiful enough for governments to offer bounties on wolves beginning in 1786. Dr. Don Dodds in his excellent review of wildlife management in Nova Scotia, Challenge and Response, states the last recorded bounty on wolves was paid in 1847.In Newfoundland wolves were believed to arrive on the island from Labrador over the frozen Strait of Belle Isle. Once on the island they took advantage of the plentiful herds of caribou. The last recorded wolf from the island of Newfoundland was shot in the 1920s.

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When wolves disappeared the only large predators, in addition to man, in Eastern Canada were be bears, lynk, bobcats and foxes. This changes in the 1970s when the Eastern coyote moved into the region. The first recorded specimen in Nova Scotia was trapped in Halifax County in 1976. A second was shot in Pictou County in 1977 when it began killing sheep. Since then this adaptable animal has spread throughout New Brunswick, Nova Scotia as well as Prince Edward Island and is now found on Newfoundland.

One reason for the coyote's success is its versatility. It appears to do very well in close contact with humans and many of our activities, such as farming, certainly benefit it. I was speaking to a friend in Central Nova Scotia who traps coyotes and he told me that last year he harvested over fifty . Almost all were caught at the request of farmers who were having problems with them around their livestock. Coyotes are what biologists call generalists. They will eat almost anything and studies done on their droppings have revealed prey items ranging from mice to deer, rabbits, groundhogs, birds and even insects. Plant material, berries and fruit may also be consumed in season. They are great scavengers and road kill may make up an important part of their diet.

Our coyote is a different animal than those found in the West. Research on coyote DNA in North America suggests that the Eastern coyote bred with gray wolves while it spread across North America. This may explain the fact that the coyotes in Eastern Canada are larger than their Western cousins. However you feel about coyotes we can expect to hear their song for many years to come.

East Coast Outdoor Shows

Spring brings with it a number of outdoor shows for East Coast anglers. In New Brunswick the 2008 Dieppe Fly Fishing Forum will be held on March 29 and 30. This will mark the fifth year for the forum which showcases some of the greatest contemporary Atlantic Canadian fly tiers. For information on the forum, as well as a list of seminars and other features check out their website at flyfishingforum.ca. In Nova Scotia the Atlantic Outdoor Sports and Recreation Show will be held from March 13-16 in Halifax. This year marks the 25th anniversary for this show which signals the end of winter for many East Coast anglers. http://www.nfl.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/going_fishing.htm

Don MacLean is an outdoor writer, fishing guide and biologist who lives in Nova Scotia. He can be reached at oldtrout@ns.sympatico.ca

2008 Don MacLean


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