Many Americans have a complex relationship with the coyote. As humanity encroaches further and further into former wilderness areas, wildlife like coyotes are correspondingly pushed into cities and suburbs. There, they’re given a bad rap, frequently branded as pet-eaters and pests; lock your cats and dogs up at night and be careful in the morning, because the coyotes are coming.
Their negative image is almost entirely unfounded, according to a study by the Urban Coyote Research Project. Analyzing coyote scat, they found that only around 3.3 percent of coyotes showed evidence of eating either human garbage or pets; the rest comprised rodents, deer, fruit, and other naturally foraged food items.
Perhaps that conception is what makes this North Bay sighting so unusual and so striking. This coyote has lucked out and stumbled upon a mountain lion kill, according to the photographer. Upon finding the kill, the photographer set up his camera there for three days, capturing a slew of visitors — mountain lion, coyote, and turkey vulture. By this point, the mountain lion appeared to have moved on, choosing not to cache its kill, but that’s not immediately obvious to all the area’s residents. The air isn’t all clear; the coyote looks — nervously? — over his shoulder, perhaps hoping that the cat won’t come back for seconds. Though a coyote prefers fresh meat, it’s hard to say no to a ready-meal like this, and they’ll scavenge given the opportunity. They’ve even been observed cannibalizing other coyote carcasses in the wild.
That resourcefulness is something to admire. Coyotes could very well be a symbol of human adaptability, a figure to compare ourselves to, if we didn’t constantly pit ourselves at odds against them.
This photo also shows the way open space areas in the North Bay have recovered from the wildfires that devastated the area last year. Behind the coyote is a burned fir tree. The branches are also a product of the fire; the floor would normally be more clear and less impeded. Despite the blackened trunks in the background, there’s a proliferation of green, new shoots and leaves coming up to replace the old. Like the coyote, the hills and forests adapt. Rather than being wiped out, they bounce back or change.
Related: Kim Todd writes about urban coyotes in Northern California, and our efforts to live with them.