Coyote vs. Goose

Coyote (2018)

Coyote (2018)

On March 6, 2022 I blogged about seeing a coyote in my own subdivision. As mentioned in that post, I only see coyotes a few times each year, so I didn’t expect to see another one for a while… especially since I am not getting out as much as I used to. However, now that the weather is warmer and my health is (slowly) improving, I have been getting out for short walks when the weather is good. I missed so much of last fall’s migration that I’ve been eager to get out this spring; although I’ve been sticking close to home, I’ve got a great variety of birding habitats in my 5MR (5-mile-radius centered on home, a birding concept that gained popularity during the 2020 pandemic lockdowns), with a lifetime list of 217 species.

I’ve seen 145 species at Sarsaparilla Trail alone, a short circular trail in Stony Swamp that has occasionally yielded such uncommon species such as Golden-winged Warbler, Ross’s Goose, and Golden Eagle. When I stopped there on April 12th I was hoping to find a few common birds for my year list, and it did not disappoint.

Canada Goose on nest (2012)

Canada Goose on nest (2012)

My first new year bird was a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets. I heard at least two calling in the conifers next to the parking lot and saw one of them flitting around 20 feet up. My second was a Fox Sparrow feeding on the trail with some juncos, immediately standing out due to its larger size and rusty red colouring. It didn’t stay in view very long, and flew off when I tried to get close enough for a photo. I heard a singing Purple Finch and Brown Creeper on my way to the boardwalk, and once I reached the pond and started scanning the area I found a couple of Ring-necked Ducks (year bird #3) diving in the deep southern part of the pond and the newly-arrived resident Tree Swallows (year bird #4) flying around.

I still had my binoculars raised when I heard the resident Canada Geese honking vigorously about something. I figured it was just a typical goose dispute…until I scanned the beaver lodge where they usually nest and saw a coyote standing on top! I was so startled it took me a moment to react and turn my camera on. By that time the coyote had seen me as well, and started making its way off the beaver lodge. I hastily tried to focus my camera on the animal to shoot a few pictures while it was still out in the open.

The geese nest on top of the lodge every year, and my immediate thought was that the coyote was attempting to raid the nest. Both adults were in the water, protesting loudly enough to disturb the other waterfowl nearby, although the coyote seemed unaffected. In fact, it seemed more disturbed by my presence on the boardwalk, even though I was too far away to be a threat. It looked right at me while it crossed the small channel of water, then used the fallen trees to get to the shore. I managed to get a few photos, but the distance was just a bit too far and there was enough of a heat shimmer to prevent my photos from being as sharp as I would have liked. It wasn’t until I got home and reviewed my photos and realized that the coyote had been successful, carrying a large goose egg in its jaws to the shore. I decided to post them anyway, as this behaviour is not something people see every day (thanks to my photographer friend Stephen J. Stephen for sharpening a few of these images)! Click on any photo below to enlarge and cycle through them:

While I felt bad for the geese, I didn’t begrudge the coyote its meal, especially when I saw how thin it was…its legs looked like twigs that can barely support its body. It stood at the edge of the water with its back to me for a long time, presumably eating the egg, then disappeared into the reeds. The geese returned to the top of the beaver lodge to tend to the rest of the eggs. This is the second time I’ve seen a coyote at the edge of the pond; however, my previous observation occurred back in 2013!

Interestingly, even though I didn’t see the nest or the geese incubating its eggs, the photo of the coyote with egg in its mouth counts as breeding evidence for the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (NE = “nest with eggs”), which is now in its second year of data collection. Eggs cannot, however, be counted as birds for eBird. Geese typically lay between 2 and 8 eggs in a clutch, and incubate them for about a month. The first young are usually seen in our area around Mother’s Day. Hopefully the coyote won’t eat them all and we’ll see some fluffy yellow goslings swimming on the water with their parents later this spring!

Predators Close to Home

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Those in my friend and birding circles know I have been dealing with serious health issues since last fall…serious enough to have to take a medical leave of absence from work, and leave me feeling unwell enough to get outside birding for much of that time. The timing could not have been worse as the Omicron variant hit our region in late December and peaked in late January, its insane transmission rate leaving me feeling vulnerable every time I had to leave the house. I stayed home except to go to a medical appointments, despite many offers from friends to go birding, as I couldn’t risk catching COVID while my health was still fragile. However, things are improving on both fronts: the Omicron wave is receding, and I had surgery five weeks ago, and am slowly regaining my strength and mobility. If ever there was a time to be out of commission, this is it: winter is my least favourite season, with its bitterly cold days, icy trails, and lack of flowers and insects. Winter is more a time for chasing than exploring, and while we’ve had a couple of great rarities turn up, I was in no condition to go after them myself.

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Mammals of Old Quarry Trail

Snowshoe Hare

It’s difficult to plan a mammal-watching excursion here in Ottawa. Most of my mammal sightings are random occurrences; they are much more secretive than birds, and do not conveniently give away their location with boisterous song in the summer or quiet chip notes in the non-breeding season. Diurnal mammals such as squirrels and chipmunks are the exception – both are quick to voice their displeasure with or fear of intruders in their territory. However, most other mammals are silent and prefer not to be noticed.

Stony Swamp is home to a large number of mammals, from the tiny Southern Red-backed Vole to the large White-tailed Deer and fierce coyote. By spending a lot of time on the trails – particularly in the evening or first thing in the morning, before it gets fully light or too crowded – you can see many of these mammals over the course of a year, but it’s difficult to tally more than a couple of species in a single outing. I find the Old Quarry Trail is one of the most reliable trails for seeing mammals such as Snowshoe Hare and porcupine, so I decided to spend some time there this morning.

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Wild Coyote

I returned to Sarsaparilla Trail the following day. The Pied-billed Grebe and Ruddy Duck had disappeared, but the Hooded Mergansers were still there, swimming and diving in the middle of the pond. A female scaup had joined them, as had eight Green-winged Teal; I didn’t even notice the Green-winged Teal hiding near the reeds at the back of the pond until something startled them into flight, causing the green patches on their wings to flash in the sun. To my surprise, a Green Heron was also still present. When I first saw it, it was flying low over the water; I wasn’t sure what it was until it landed among the downed trees near the beaver lodge. Then I spotted the bright yellow legs and green back. It seems rather late for him to still be here.

I heard a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds calling from the marsh and saw a single Song Sparrow in the shrubs next to the boardwalk. Then I spotted a mammal walking along the water’s edge on the other side of the pond. It wasn’t a deer, which I’ve seen here many times before; it was a coyote! He walked along the shore right behind the Green Heron and then disappeared into the vegetation. A few minutes later, he reappeared at the water’s edge several meters to the right.



Coyotes are not well-liked in my area, and the hunting of them often crosses the line into persecution. Although coyote sightings are described as “commonplace” by the Ministry of Natural Resources, I rarely encounter them on my outings. Whenever I see one I am usually thrilled, especially when I find one in a conservation area where they are less likely to encounter humans and are therefore less likely to engender conflict.

Coyotes migrated to Ontario more than 100 years ago, when settlers began clearing the southern forests. Since then they have adapted well to both rural and urban environments. Rural coyotes prefer open, agricultural landscapes interspersed with woodlots and other brushy terrain. Urban coyotes typically inhabit green spaces and industrial areas within cities, where they avoid people whenever possible. They are able to coexist with humans by feeding primarily at night and resting in bushy or wooded areas during the day.

As with most wild animals, if you keep your distance upon encountering a coyote, it will most likely avoid you. I had a close call with one in Stony Swamp a few years ago when I rounded the corner of the trail and saw one walking along the path toward me. However, I was on part of a trail where dogs are allowed and thought it was a dog that had been let off its leash with its humans somewhere behind. I was surprised when it walked into the woods upon seeing me, and quickly vanished into the brush. When I rounded the corner, the trail was completely empty…..there were no humans in sight. Had I realized what it was when I first saw it, I could have gotten some awesome photos.



This one didn’t linger by the water, but instead walked back into the tall grasses at the edge of the water and disappeared. Hopefully he will stay deep in the woods on the other side of the pond, away from the trails and roads, and stay safe.

OFNC Trip to Amherst Island

Common Merganser

On Saturday, January 27, 2013, the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club (OFNC) trip to Amherst Island finally took place after being delayed twice, the first time because of deer hunting in Owl Woods and the second time because of the weather. We couldn’t have asked for better weather for trip; although it was -20°C when we left, it warmed up to a beautiful -7°C with periods of both sun and cloud. The deep freeze had ended just in time.

We left at 7:30 am in order to catch the 10:30 ferry, stopping briefly at the Mallorytown service center to refuel our cars and our bodies. We saw at least three Red-tailed Hawks, one flock of Wild Turkeys, and two porcupines sleeping in a deciduous tree on the drive down.

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Three Mammals and Two Wrens

Carolina Wren in the snow

Carolina Wren

On Saturday I went out by myself to follow up on a few sightings in the west end. I started off with a tour of the back roads near Richmond, hoping to find some Horned Larks to add to my Ottawa year list; however, these birds, as well as the Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs they often associate with, were absent. On Rushmore Road I noticed a canine standing at the back of a snow-covered field, so I pulled over to check it out. It wasn’t a domestic dog as I had first thought but a coyote! He just stood there looking at me, and I just stood there looking at him, and neither of us made any move. Then he lay down in the snow, still watching me, so I got out my scope for a better look. I was surprised he didn’t turn his tail and run away!

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Response from Premier McGuinty

Coyote seen near Milton Road, Feb. 20 2011 On February 9, 2011, I wrote to Premier Dalton McGuinty voicing my opposition to the coyote-killing contests being held in Eastern Ontario. I finally received a response on April 14, 2011. 

The response is a typical form letter, and doesn’t really address my concerns about the contests being held to encourage the wide-scale destruction of these animals.  The email does say that the government is “not considering a cull” and that “enforcement officers will continue to carefully monitor coyote hunting in the province to ensure that hunters are following the law”.  It is clear the Premier doesn’t understand why this issue is so upsetting to animal and nature lovers and people who value biodiversity and ecological balance more than appeasing hunters, farmers and land owners.

I think it’s time to write again.

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Unexpected Surprises

Common Redpoll

Last weekend Deb and I spent the morning birding in the east end.  It’s been a while since we’ve been to the Frank Kenny area, and as we’ve heard no reports from the east end we thought it would be worth taking a look.

The day started out sunny but cold (-14°C), so we were happy to be in the car driving around.  It soon became clear why there have been no reports from the area: there was nothing to see!  We drove from Trim Road to Wall Road and the back roads around Frank Kenny and Giroux and didn’t see a single hawk, let alone a Snowy Owl or a shrike.  There were no Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, or American Tree Sparrows to be seen either. All we saw were crows, and, close to the farm buildings, pigeons and starlings.

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Another year, another coyote killing contest

A year ago I blogged about the The Great Coyote Kill, a coyote-killing contest sponsored by the Osgoode Township Fish Game and Conservation Club in order to eradicate the “infestation” of coyotes in the Osgoode area. I was urged, and urged readers of this blog, to write to Mayor Larry O’Brien asking him to oppose the contest.

Unfortunately neither the City nor the Minister of Natural Resources accepted responsibility for the issue and the contest was allowed to run. They must not have killed enough coyotes during their last contest or over the summer (coyotes may be legally hunted all year round) for this year another “cull” is taking place. And even though it has been brought to the Minister of Natural Resources’ attention that such contests are illegal pursuant to Section 11(1) of the Fish & Wildlife Conservation Act, no action is being taken to stop the contests.

Wildlife Ontario and the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre have been active in bringing this issue to the attention of Ottawa city councillors, Ontario’s MPPs, the Minister of Natural Resources, Premier Dalton McGuinty and the local media. Now they are urging the public to write to the Premier and ask him to stop the senseless slaughter. The Wildlife Ontario page provides tips for what to say in your letter, links to the MPPs of Ontario and city councillors of Ottawa, and several informative and thought-provoking links to articles published in various newspapers recently. I have taken points from many of these articles in my own letter to Premier McGuinty.

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