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Sunday, November 1, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Babes in the sage: Landers stumbles onto coyote den

Correction:  The photos of the coyote pups with this post were snapped on April 8. Cached versions of the images include captions incorrectly giving an August date.

WILDLIFE WATCHING -- With the help of my leashed-dog's nose, I stumbled onto a litter of seven tiny coyote pups -- their eyes still closed -- while exploring sagebrush country in Lincoln County, Washington, this weekend.

Ranger, my Brittany, stood on point and I went on alert.  I've unwittingly walked into the lair of coyote pups several times in previous years and in each case I was confronted and shooed away by defensive and intimidating coyote parents.

This time the parents apparently were willing to stay concealed in the sagebrush as I came and quickly went after snapping a few photos.

It was my first encounter with pups less that two weeks old that were not in an underground or covered den. Instead, their nursery was a dirt hollow dug out under large sagebrush. They were tightly huddled for warmth as the air temperature was just under 40 degrees.

The parents had mated in late January when the region was covered in snow. About 63 days later, the litter was born. 

According to the National Trappers Association, a female coyote will stay in her den with her pups until their eyes open. This can take 11 or 12 days.  These pups appeared to be around 9 days old. Mom was almost certainly nearby.

Coyote litters average 5 to 7 pups. More than half of the pups in these photos, according to another set of averages, will not survive their first year.

Both the male and female coyote participate in taking care of the pups. The male will bring food to the female and the pups and help protect them from predators.

By fall, the surviving pups will be able to hunt for themselves.

The yodle-dog parents seemed to have a good game plan for the family.  As I walked out the remaining couple of miles to my vehicle, I noticed rodent paths and holes almost everywhere in the dead, dry grass around the sage bushes.  And with the help of Ranger, I detected many rodents using them.

The table is set.

By the way, coyotes, wolves, bears, and great horned owls are among the earliest critters out there to have their young of the year. Bear sows give birth to their cubs during winter denning.

Deer and elk generally have their fawns and calves at the end of May into early June.

I wasn't the only one who had a good day of wildlife observation in Lincoln County.  Here's a birding report that wind-whipped Norm Engeland made a day earlier for Inland Northwest Birders (we covered some of the same ground, but as usual, a dedicated birder saw and identified many more species):

Left Spokane in a driving rain Friday morning heading west into a lightning storm and dodging thundershowers.  Rain let up but "My the wind do blow." Saw a  herd of about 16 elk four miles past Davenport with 3 Tundra Swans across the road in a field.  Also lingering Rough Legged Hawk and fresh Say's Phoebe.  Basically too windy for sparrows to perch.

Lots of waterfowl at Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area.

At Swanson Lakes:  Hold on to your hat!

  • N Pintails
  • N Shovelers
  • Gadwalls
  • A Wigeons
  • GW Teals
  • Mallards
  • Canvasbacks
  • Redheads
  • Ring-necked Ducks
  • L Scaups
  • Buffleheads
  • Ruddy Ducks
  • Canada Geese
  • Coots
  • Killdeer
  • Tree Swallows
  • Bald Eagles
  • Meadowlarks larking
  • Kestrels
  • RT Hawks
  • Brewer's BBs
  • RW BBs
  • RN Pheasant
  • Savannah Sparrows

South on Seven Springs Dairy Road: Into gale force winds

  • Yellow-headed BB, one lonely fellow with Red wings

On Old Kuck Road: Had to kneel in front of the truck to avoid being blown away.


Davenport Cemetery: NE corner provided some windbreak

  • Ruby-crowned Kinglets
  • Golden-crowned Kinglets

Reardon Ponds were churning up mud and sporting whitecaps with just a few ducks

On Hwy 2:

  • Prarie Falcon one free-riding the sails, one hunkered down on a fence post leaning strong in to the wind.

Approaching Spokane:

  • Turkey Vultures (hmm)

Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

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