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Wild canines

October 29, 2017
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

Growing up, our family raised sheep. My grandfather raised sheep. When out of high school, I worked for a fella while I went to college and he raised you guessed it sheep.

So over the course of the years, I many times would be called upon to grab the gun because there were dogs in the sheep. These were not true wild dogs but rather neighborhood dogs that, like some people, made poor decisions when they got together in a group. It generally didn't end well for the party dogs.

There are several truly wild canines that live in our area. I started out planning to focus on brush wolves but will touch on a couple others, as well.

You probably know them as coyotes, but pioneers called them brush wolves. While an occasional true gray wolf wanders into Iowa and is killed, the largest native wild canine that we find living here is the coyote. I can recall that when I came to Grundy County, people were talking about coyotes becoming more plentiful. I grew up farther south and we had been seeing coyotes regularly for years. I still remember the first coyote I trapped down near Colfax.

I also clearly remember standing on our deck at home and seeing the sheep down in the pasture suddenly all jump and run at once. A coyote came shooting up out of the ditch and grabbed a young lamb. We had heard coyotes "singing" at night but that was the first sighting on our farm.

If I go out in the evening and hit the siren on the truck a quick blast, I will hear a family of coyotes to the south start in with their yips and howls followed almost immediately by a second group to the north. And while they are a good sized predator, their diet consists mainly of mice and other small mammals. Although hunting together, it is possible for them to take something as large as a deer typically a very old, or young, or injured deer.

The other wild canine that we see often around these parts is the red fox. Red fox, like coyotes eat more mice than any other food source although they also eat fruit, insects, small mammals, as well as birds and their eggs. Foxes will catch an occasional rabbit, and are more skilled at catching birds than their larger cousin the coyote. Free range poultry can be threatened particularly when a fox pair is trying to feed a growing family. Around about 1976 and 77, the fur prices for red fox were $100 and even a bit more for good pelts. I paid for my last year at Iowa State trapping fox.

The smallest and least adaptable native dog in Iowa is the little gray fox. I haven't seen these in the open agricultural areas. There's barely enough woodland in much of central Iowa to offer gray foxes a home but as we get over toward the river valleys and wooded areas they do exist. These beautiful gray and tan strictly forest dwellers are the only member of the dog family that routinely climbs trees. They'll often den in hollow trees well above the ground. I clearly remember the first gray fox that I caught on my trap-line 40 years ago.

With all of these memories surfacing, I just might pull a few traps out of retirement.



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