MISSOULA — This edition of A Wilder View takes a look at the interesting hunting behavior of coyotes.
Coyotes are opportunistic predators, eating a variety of food items ranging from fruit and insects to sometimes prey larger than themselves. They generally hunt alone and prefer to hunt smaller prey like mice, pocket gophers, and ground squirrels.
Coyotes and other canids have a distinct hunting behavior when trying to catch small animals - it's called "mousing." Mousing is when a coyote listens for small rodents traveling underground, figures out their location, and pounces on them.
We got to experience this mousing behavior right here in Montana where a coyote slowly moved toward a spot and stopped.
The animal was waiting, listening, and smelling -- making micro-adjustments to perfect its technique. It rotated its head so the sound of the mouse moving could ping off one ear and then rotated its head again for sounds to ping off the other ear allowing it to hone in on the exact location of its prey.
The coyote was waiting for the mouse to walk right underneath so it could pounce. Then as all the senses figured out when the mouse aligned perfectly with a pounce and it was go time. The coyote sprung in the air and dropped on its prey, hitting it with the front feet. The front legs are held straight and braced to strike with immense force.
There was immediate success in quickly engulfing its prey.
In an area with lost rodents, coyotes can spend all day in a small area repeatedly exhibiting this behavior. Many times before actually leaping, the coyote assumes a tense position only to relax and wait for the right moment. This technique is particularly beneficial during winter, as deep snowpack provides cover for rodents.
Species in the dog family are unique among mammals as they can regurgitate food for their young. This behavior is important for pups before, during, and after weaning, and sometimes for the mother during the first weeks.
Most species in the dog family also bury surplus food in well-hidden caches.