Three years ago, a coyote with ice-blue eyes lay stock-still as scientists took her blood, weighed her and fixed a GPS collar around her neck on a dirt road near Augusta.
The scientists were from the University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry, and they were adding the coyote to what would be the largest study of the animal in the South.
For the next two years, scientists followed coyotes like it across parts of Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina to try to answer questions they had about how coyotes have become so ubiquitous across the region.
Michael Chamberlain, lead scientist on the study, already knew some things.
“Well, for one thing coyotes in the Southeast are relying more heavily on deer as prey than Western coyotes do,” he said. Deer hunters, among others, wanted to know more about that. That’s why natural resources agencies from Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina helped pay for the study.
Back then, as far as anyone could tell, the deer that Southern coyotes ate were newborn fawns in the spring and whatever they could scavenge during hunting season. The coyotes in the new study showed Chamberlain something new.
“By and far white-tailed deer were the most important prey resource for resident coyotes,” he said of the study results. And this wasn’t just during hunting season either. “The constant, consistent use of adults throughout the year is something you can’t just describe … (as) scavenging.”
That Southern coyotes hunt deer is probably not the news that hunters wanted, but there’s no love lost. Already Georgia hunters kill about 40,000 coyotes annually, and the state is in the second year of a bounty contest.