Coyote den life center stage for trail camera documentation

PHOTOS BY TRAIL CAMERA/GARRY BRANDENBURG A trail camera recorded the interaction of a female coyote and her five pups near their den entrance over the past two weeks. This author owns several trail cameras and decided to put one to good use monitoring a known coyote den site. I placed the camera on an old dead tree stump with its lens pointed toward the den entrance area. Anything that passed by the area would set off the remote sensing shutter. I was not surprised by coyotes using the site. I was surprised, however, that the camera recorded 3,222 images during the two week stint of its placement. And one special image was of the Pileated woodpecker who stopped by long enough to get its picture taken. Trail cameras can be a great tool for learning about wildlife.

Coyotes are wild canines, dog-like predators on the landscape, and a vital component of the interplay between predator and prey. Hunters know that coyotes are always present somewhere.

Hunters hear their barks and yelps usually during early evening hours. All major prey for coyotes must always be on guard to avoid becoming captured, killed and thus being food for this native animal.

The scientific name for coyotes is Canis latrans. Canis is the Latin name for “dog”; and latrans is Latin for “a barker.” The Aztec Indian word they used was coyotl and is pronounced “ki-o-tee.”

Elusive and cunning, smart and mostly nocturnal, coyotes roam forests, grasslands and fields looking for anything vulnerable to capture and eat. Cottontail rabbits rate high in the list.

Small mammals like rodents, mice, ground squirrels, ground nesting bird eggs, insects, aquatic insects and road-killed carrion are all sources of food. Judging by the success of coyotes to maintain a robust population, these adaptable wild dogs know how to survive.

As a famous late radio personality used to say, “Now here is the rest of the story.” I hope you will enjoy the hows and whys of the things that had to happen to obtain today’s images, so I invite you to join me on one of my forays into the forests of Marshall County, on private land, into an adventure of the natural world, to observe and learn more about wildlife.

It all started with one of my long hikes during a spring bow hunt for wild turkeys this spring. I traversed along a deer trail stealthily all dressed up in my camo clothing.

Slow walking was key to the possibility of seeing or hearing gobbling turkeys. I selected a big tree to sit down next to using its big trunk as a backrest.

Hunting demands patience, long quiet times to listen carefully to every sound of nature that may permeate the forest well before and during sunrise. Sunrise is a magic reawakening of day duties for many small birds beginning to flit about as they hunt for insects to eat.

Light from an emerging sunrise shines through the forest casting eerie light and shadows on all the shrubs and trees. All that is emerging and all that I see and hear makes waking up well before dawn worth the effort.

On this particular outdoor adventure, time took its toll. After about three hours of sitting, waiting and listening, the turkeys had gone elsewhere. My anticipation was still good but the reality of the situation told me it was time to move out, so I did.

While walking out at a super slow pace, I continued to observe carefully, and that is when I spotted a lot of excavated soil on the side of the hill. I came closer and inspected the site. It appeared to be a den site, and a den site for a coyote.

Knowing that coyotes had mated during February or early March, it was time for the male and female to find a den for the impending birth of a new litter of coyote pups. The coyotes made their choice. I decided to come back in a few days with my trail camera.

Trail cameras are designed to make images remotely whenever movement or body heat of an animal passes in front of the lens. It works day or night in all kinds of weather, dutifully doing its job of recording wildlife activities. All I had to do was let the camera do its work while I was doing my own things elsewhere.

A downside to trail cameras sometimes is wind. Wind blows and tree and bush branches move with those wind bursts. Each movement triggered the shutter in the trail camera.

I gathered up my trail camera on May 28 to bring back the evidence of whatever had transpired. Like a kid at Christmas time excited over presents under the tree, I anticipated lots of good things. What I did get was a big dose of reality.

My initial editing job quickly came to the opinion that about half of the 3,222 images were wind related. No animals, no birds, just fluttering leaves, or rain, or both. That is okay.

In time, many digital images will see the delete button extinguish the data. Day and night like clockwork the camera recorded wind, more wind, and then finally a lot of coyote comings and goings. On or about May 10 was the first evidence of coyote pups venturing outside the den. They were sticking close to their mother. In all the subsequent days and nights, those five coyote pups became a bit bolder as they ventured a bit farther from the den entrance. Mom was usually close by and she would get mobbed by her young ones, who always seemed to be hungry.

Many images depicted the young pups frolicking about, jumping upon each other, playing tag and wrestling. As interesting as those images were, the composition of most images left a lot to be desired.

Out of all the images, I selected just three to share with you. I hope you enjoyed seeing these snippets of living coyote style.


Deer and fawning season is here right now, the peak time for newborn fawns to breathe in their first lungs full of air. Doe deer seek out secluded places to give birth which could be anywhere from your backyard garden to field edges or farmstead windbreaks.

The doe just wants some solitude for a few days. Seclusion is a tactic to stay away from other deer and away for predatory eyes.

Now is also the time when people may find or see a fawn while out doing lawn chores, hiking or bicycling, or mushroom picking. The best words of advice are to leave the baby deer alone. Yes, you can observe from a distance, but resist the false notion that the animal is “abandoned.” Fawns are not abandoned.

The doe deer knows where her young ones are hiding or where she last left them. Come night time she will return, nurse them and move on. A few hours later she returns to do it all over again.

As the fawns grow stronger, they will follow the doe where she leads them. It is illegal for people to pick up fawns. Let these wildlife babies and all other species of wildlife babies alone. Wildlife parents know how to take care of their young critters.


A word about Carrying Capacity. This term is used by biologists to garner an understanding for how many wildlife critters, from the smallest to the largest, can occupy and be supported with adequate habitat, foods and escape spaces. Each parcel of land is different, but each has a limit of how many critters it can sustain.

Springtime is a surplus time when new grasses, shrubbery and tree leaves emerge after a long winter. New food sources abound everywhere. Wildlife adjusts and adapts to this time of plenty.

Summer is also a time of abundant foods, lots of cover and space to roam. Young animals learn from their parents what to eat and where to find it.

Young animals learn to run away, or fly away from potential dangers of predators. All this adjustment and learning must be accomplished before a new winter begins.

A hard reality of living off the land is that not all wildlife babies survive. While there may be a temporary overabundance of baby critters, predators do have successes to take some out. An over abundance at the start of summer will be slowly reduced even before regulated hunting seasons begin in the fall.

Through it all, enough new animals will be added to the population to bring fall numbers up considerably. This ensures stable populations before winter’s pinch period settles in.

Winter is crunch time. Less food, less cover, and if the animal species is not a migratory bird, life and living becomes a daily struggle. Habitats must be in balance in order to support wildlife. If the habitat is altered significantly, some plants and animals may not adapt or may not survive.

Habitat is where any species fulfills its basic life needs: nourishment, procreation, and rest. Elements in this life lesson include food and water whereby adequate space and arrangement of these items is sufficient. Cover is another factor whereby wild animals find places to hide, to roost, rest, and travel.

Space is another factor because it takes a lot of area to provide enough food and cover. An ideal arrangement is to plan for and provide all these things together so wildlife can minimize their energy use while going about survival day to day.

Survival entails avoiding, if possible, many various factors working against life. These factors are starvation, diseases or parasites, accidents, adverse weather issues, predators and hunting. Regulated hunting acknowledges and allows a small percentage of offtakes that will not harm the overall population of designated game animals.

Purchases of fishing or hunting licenses bring money into the conservation system. With those funds, professional wildlife and fisheries staff can work on population modeling, census surveys, plus research and data gathering to provide recommendations to policy makers.


Today’s quote is from Theodore Roosevelt. “In a civilized and cultivated country, wild animals only continue to exist at all when preserved by sportsmen.”


Garry Brandenburg is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology.

Contact him at:

P.O. Box 96

Albion, IA 50005


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