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In the Garden: Wily Coyote doesn’t scare the quail, but he does make the neighbors smile

UPDATED: Sat., July 17, 2021

Wily the coyote decoy was looking very festive during the holiday season, much to the delight of Susan Mulvihill’s neighbors.  (Susan Mulvihill/For The Spokesman-Review)
Wily the coyote decoy was looking very festive during the holiday season, much to the delight of Susan Mulvihill’s neighbors. (Susan Mulvihill/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Susan Mulvihill For The Spokesman-Review

Do you remember the old Road Runner cartoons? As part of the Looney Tunes series, they featured the Road Runner and his nemesis, Wile E. Coyote. For the young folks out there who have no idea what I’m talking about, his full name was a pun and pronounced “Wily Coyote.” Keep that in mind for a moment.

We have a large covey of California quail that think our garden is their domain. These beautiful birds are fun to watch, but they are not a gardener’s best friend. After vegetable seeds sprout, they think the tender seedlings are a delicacy.

If I plant onion bulbs, they think it’s hilarious to pull them back up again. And don’t get me started on their love of dust baths: They usually take them in the middle of a raised bed, sending soil and mulch flying everywhere and snap a few plant stems, too.

Two years ago, my husband Bill and I enjoyed a pleasant lunch in Coeur d’Alene. While gazing out the window toward the lake, we spied life-sized coyote decoys placed here and there on the docks. We decided their purpose was to keep geese from going onto the docks and leaving their little calling cards for humans to step on.

That seemed like a brilliant idea and one we hadn’t considered employing in our quest to keep quail out of the veggie garden. We found an online source and ordered a decoy. We nicknamed him “Wily” in honor of Wile E. Coyote.

Our plan was to move Wily to different areas of the garden on a daily basis, thinking that would freak out the quail. We were certain they thought, “Look out, everybody! There’s a coyote in the garden and it’s always moving around, so we’d better stay out of there!”

It worked like a charm – for about two weeks. The quail and Wily soon became the best of friends, and the garden mayhem resumed. What we hadn’t anticipated, however, was that Wily would also become our garden mascot.

There is a private road that runs alongside our garden. One of our neighbors passes by every morning while out for a jog. She soon inquired about Wily’s purpose and made it her daily routine to see if she could spot where we had been moved him.

We occasionally made him trickier to find and sometimes chose humorous settings for him by perching him in our wheelbarrow or having him peek out from the middle of our raspberry patch. We even tied a bandanna around his neck to give him a bit of character.

Sometimes, we’d hear gals chatting while on a walk, followed by a burst of laughter when they spotted Wily’s latest pose.

A few weeks ago, I was weeding our front flower bed with my back to the road. I suddenly heard a woman’s voice coming from behind me, saying “You don’t know me, but I just have to ask what’s up with that coyote in your garden?”

After we both chuckled, I explained Wily’s history and how he had become the neighborhood mascot. We had a pleasant chat, and I now have a new friend.

Two days later, I found a little package outside our front door. It was a new bandanna for Wily. Who would have thought that a failed quail deterrent would end up with his own fan club?

Susan Mulvihill is author of “The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook.” She can be reached at susan@susansinthegarden.com. Watch this week’s “Everyone Can Grow a Garden” video at youtube.com/susansinthegarden.

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