By NANCY JANE KERN
AUSTERLITZ WAS VERY COLD as I watched strong winds blowing powdery snow across the field. Many mini snow tornadoes whirled and twisted in a frenzied dance to crash and die against the tree border. It was a mesmerizing and calming display, and I regretted I hadn’t filmed it.
The Wolf Moon was established by Indigenous People in what is our month of January, and this year occurs on January 25, 2024. Most do not realize we have representatives of the wolf in Columbia County, the Eastern Coyote. It weighs about 40 lbs., is larger than a Western Coyote, and its DNA indicates that it is a mix of the Canadian Wolf (roughly 25%), coyote and domestic dog.
I first found them at our farms in the 1970s. My Uncle Harold Wambach made me aware of them after observing several taking down a deer and killing it. He kept saying they were not coyotes, they were wolves. I thought he was crazy, we didn’t have wolves in our area, and now he has been proven partially correct.
This mixed ancestry makes the Eastern Coyote larger than the Western. Size and the elevated carriage of their tails had also made my uncle think “wolf.” Our coyotes are usually monogamous with a dominant male at age 3-4 winning his 2–3-year-old female who howls during estrus in January. The bonded pair mate. During pregnancy, the female digs out a den often from under a log or overturned tree roots, and pups are born about 62 days later. The male brings them food and stays nearby. Pups are transitioned onto solid food and weaned by summer. Only about 1-2 pups survive, and I have had the pleasure of watching the mother bring them out to a field and watching them learn to hunt.
Ravens have also been observed and revered by Indigenous People and ravens would lead the hunters to game. The raven cannot rip open a large animal and feed, so after a kill by a man, there would be meat and offal for the ravens. Ravens have a similar relationship with wolves and the raven is referred to as the wolf-bird. If the weather cooperates Thursday there will be a beautiful moon, and if we are lucky, we may hear a coyote (wolf) howl too.
More information about coyotes and wolves can be found on the NYS DEC website at: https://dec.ny.gov/nature/animals-fish-plants/eastern-coyote