Local wildlife panorama now includes deer-killing coyotes

February 21, 2020

Bald eagles nesting, herons developing rookeries, early ospreys scouting for nests and coyotes killing a yearling deer in Lewes. They are constant reminders of how much wildlife activity we have around us in Sussex County, especially in this remarkably mild winter that is already showing trees budding and springtime racing toward us.

Thanks to everyone who sends me notes and touches base about the wild world around us.

Stormy Harrington and his wife, Bev, own and operate the River Park marine facility at the end of Pilottown Road. Stormy called about a week ago, said he saw an osprey on one of the nesting poles there. “I thought maybe it was a small eagle, so I took another look and it was definitely an osprey.“ He hasn’t seen the bird again since that first spotting, but it could be it was an early scout coming through looking for a new nesting site. There are several osprey nests on the edge of the Great Marsh there and adjacent to Roosevelt Inlet.

Ospreys don’t usually show up back this way until a week or so on either side of St. Patrick's Day. But then again, this is an unusual winter.

I wrote last week about the bald eagles mating atop the communications tower at Five Points and speculated that they looked to be taking over an osprey nest that has been on the tower for a few years. The eagles were courting and cavorting in broad daylight, and I characterized them as promiscuous. Another reader sent me a note and said I was showing my Christian leanings. “Bald eagles aren’t promiscuous,” wrote the reader. “They mate for life.”

And then my friend Ralph told me he heard in the past week that a Lewes resident watched a pack of coyotes kill a deer in the backyard of his Pilottown Road home recently. I tracked down the resident who confirmed the story, saying there were three coyotes, and one of them attacked and killed the young deer. The resident lives just a stone’s throw from the Great Marsh and all the wildlife habitat and cover that represents.

“It wasn’t a pretty sight,” he said. “Coyotes run their prey down from the rear and rip into them from that direction. I don’t think the coyotes ate any of the deer unless one of them ate its entrails.” The resident sent me a photograph of the dead deer lying in the grass of his yard.

Brent Moore, an avid and lifelong deer hunter who lives nearby, said he understood that the resident who witnessed the attack dragged the carcass into the field behind his house but didn’t see the coyotes come back.

“It was disturbing to me,” said Moore. “I’ve lived here since 1987 and I’ve never seen a coyote, but I’ve seen what they can do to a deer population. I used to hunt land in Connecticut that belongs to my wife’s family. There were lots of deer and turkeys and I hunted it avidly for years.

“Then around 2003 or 2004, the coyotes showed up. The last five years I had a license I never shot a turkey or a deer. They’re pretty dogs – like 35- or 40-pound German Shepherds, only grayer. Really pretty, but devastating to the habitat.”

Moore said coyotes tend to hunt in packs. “In Connecticut, they would get on one deer and follow it for days. They would wear it down and then kill it. And they had no predators. They’re the top of the food chain, like humans, and they’re not afraid of people. The biggest problem up there was with the small deer, and their mums too, after they’ve dropped and they’re vulnerable. The coyotes really disturb the habitat and disrupt where the deer bed down. The deer won’t last. I was really disappointed to hear about this in our neighborhood.”

Moore said news articles in Connecticut mentioned a mother who was attacked by coyotes when she was in her backyard with a 2-year old.

“She was able to get the child in the house safely, but she was bitten a few times. That’s when they brought in sharpshooters.”

Turnabout is fair play.

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