Coyotes of South Padre Island

Coyotes of South Padre Island By Kay Lay


A few weeks ago, I saw a lone coyote sniffing around in a wide-open area about 8 miles north of Beach Access #5.  I’ve always heard that it’s unusual for coyotes to openly display their presence during daylight hours.  But for reasons unknown to me, periodically, I see lone coyotes in the same area at around mid-morning.

The Navajo call the coyote ‘God’s dog’.  Maybe it’s true.  While virtually every other North American predators’ numbers have declined, coyote numbers have managed to increase, despite a long history of trapping, poisoning and hunting by humans.

Coyotes live chiefly in desolate and forbidden areas.   They are omnivorous, subsisting on just about any type of food source; meats, fish, insects, vegetables, fruits, seeds, almost anything.  It’s a precarious living at best.  They are lean-bodied and always appear hungry to me.  Maybe that’s why so many people tend to be wary of encounters with coyotes in the wild.   Personally, I feel a bit sorry for them.  It’s probably their body- language that brings that feeling out in me.

Coyotes tend to keep their heads and tails down low; probably to avoid being noticed.  Because of this, they always appear lonely or somehow forsaken.  When encountering humans, they generally keep a safe distance.  When alerted to possible danger, they silently trot away, periodically glancing over their shoulder, quickly surveying your location.

In more than one piece of research I have seen them referred to as the ‘cowardly coyote.’  I’ve also heard the phrase that someone is ‘coyote ugly’.  I can understand why coyotes might have become extremely cautious when it comes to humans, but I don’t believe it has anything to do with being cowardly or ugly.  In fact, their interactions with people can be dangerous for both species.  Coyotes can lose their natural fear of people if fed and that can lead to aggressive behavior, especially if small pets are present.

People who share their surroundings with coyotes should help keep them smart, opportunistic and wild.  Just ask Rik Pfaelzer, Padre Island’s own coyote expert.  He spent three years living with and studying the coyotes of Padre.  You can read all about Rik’s own experiences by going to www.wolfsongalaska.org on the Internet.   His unique encounters with one of our local groups he calls, “White Butt’s Group” is both informative and heart-warming.

As our Island home continues to grow, encroaching ever northward, it becomes more important than ever that we learn all we can about the diverse wildlife so we can continue to be a part of it, rather than just claiming ‘Squatter’s Rights.’

Kay Lay writes about the natural history of South Texas. She is the author of Don’t Pass the Beans, a guide to the sea beans of South Padre Island and is co-author of Amigo the Friendly Gray Whale, a childrens book about the adventures a young whale who disobeys his mother and becomes seperated from the pod.

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About Kay Lay

Kay Lay is a naturalist residing in the Laguna Madre area.