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Deer chasing coyote

 

Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

 

A coyote suddenly dashed from the woods, in front of Karen and me, with a deer in close pursuit. The deer was about 15 feet behind the coyote that was running for safety. The coyote looked healthy but was anxious for escape.

The deer was determined to nail the coyote with some serious blows. After passing in front us, the coyote dodged around us and turned again to enter the woods. Karen and I were traveling in a clearing on pavement.

The deer held true to its pursuit, passing in front of us as if we were not there with focus on the canine. She banked on the pavement and made a second turn toward the woods. The pavement was too smooth for her hooves and her legs went out from under her. She fell hard on her left side, jumped up and continued.

Karen was concerned that she might have received a serious injury. She did not appear to have broken a limb and hopefully the worst would be bruising.

Both coyote and deer disappeared into the woods in seconds. We hardly had time to process what was occurring. We were dumbfounded a coyote was running for its life from a deer in hot pursuit.

If a deer is healthy, a coyote’s chance of killing it are reduced. A heavy coyote weighs about 35 pounds and an adult doe averages 125 to 150 pounds. The deer has the advantage of weight, height, speed, and sharp hooves. It is not the best use of time and energy for a coyote to attempt to take a healthy deer.

I personally possess a scar on my right arm from 58 years ago when a deer casually sliced me open with one swipe of its hoof. That wild deer did not intentionally try to injure me. Back in the day, people fed wild animals in national parks. My mother put some salt on my hand and I held it out for the deer. It licked the salt and when the salt was gone, the deer pawed for more like a dog might. Its hoof gashed my arm.

Laws have since been established to prevent feeding or getting too close to wild animals in parks to protect both animals and people.

When an adult deer is weak, injured, or sick, a coyote has a better chance to kill it. That would shorten a prolonged demise and would likely help prevent the spread of disease among deer. Coyotes find and eat dead deer but occasionally adults are killed. In one study, 10 percent of coyote scat has been found to contain deer hair. Because of scavenging, the presence of hair in scat does not mean the coyote killed a deer.

So why was this deer chasing a coyote? The deer would not eat the coyote. What would cause it to endanger itself with high pursuit of an animal clearly wanting to get away? A fawn! Taking fawns is common.

The drama we witnessed the first week of June will never have a complete answer. The coyote was probably intent on killing a fawn so she could feed her own young. Does regularly leave fawns for extended periods when they are very small but by June fawns can travel with mom. If mom was nearby when the coyote arrived, the doe would let the coyote know you don’t mess with momma or her fawn.

The coyote likely had hungry pups to feed. Coyotes help keep deer numbers from being excessive and denuding the forest of many plants. Many forests have lost wildflowers and vegetation from deer over browsing. Fortunately, Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary still has healthy plant populations. That could in part be due to the presence of coyotes that take fawns. Mice and other small rodents along with insects are a staple in the coyote’s diet. Coyotes know you don’t mess with mamma deer.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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