Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Mountain Lions, Coyotes, and Bald Eagles...Oh My!

It has recently come to my attention that we have lots of predators lurking around our farm and community. In addition to occasional black bear sightings, we have recently run into a few more predators.

Yesterday, as I pulled out of the driveway for work, a large low flying bird was flying towards me down the road. Although there were a few flurries, I could see the distinct white head and tail and brown body and wings. It was a Bald Eagle! Although I have seen many a sad looking Bald Eagle in zoos, and seen them on television and possibly at a distance in the wild, this was the closest I have ever been to a wild Bald Eagle...right in my own yard! It was beautiful and definitely looked majestic flying amidst the snowflakes. Although Bald Eagles have been known to prey on small fawns, their diet consists mainly of scavenged food, fish, other birds, small reptiles and rodents. We only live 2 miles from the Muskegon River and our surroundings are teeming with prey, so I am not too worried about a Bald Eagle carrying one of our farm animals off. No worries about the alpacas and great danes, and now that it is winter, our chickens, ducks and kitty tend to hang out in the barn, far from the watchful eye of the Eagle. I look forward to seeing more Bald Eagles near our home; hopefully I will be able to snap a picture! Although I didn't get a picture this time, it looked something like this flying towards me.

On to the next predator that has been lurking around our farm. Two nights ago, Noah and I were out in the barn with another couple who were visiting, checking out our farm and alpacas. It was about 6pm and already completely dark outside. While we were standing in the barn talking, we heard intense yipping in the corn field directly behind our alpaca pastures. As it was dark, we were not able to see the coyotes, but they were definitely making a fuss. Our herdsire Smokey and his mother Lady, our alpha female, ran out towards the sound and stood on alert until the raucous stopped. Although coyotes have been known to hunt in packs and bring down livestock and prey as large as elk, their diet mainly consists of small mammals, rodents, reptiles, ground nesting birds and insects. Coyotes are presently the most abundant livestock predator in Western North America causing the majority of sheep, goat, and cattle losses. Despite these statistics, I am more worried that the coyotes would prey on our chickens, duck or barn cat than the alpacas. Our alpaca fence is 5 foot tall, no climb, horse fence and unless they dig under the fence, they can't get through it. Also, when our alpacas have been faced with dogs, they tend to huddle together and move together in a large mob stomping, kicking and snorting. They also give out warning calls when they sense any signs of danger, which alerts us and can scare off predators. Also, our two large great danes tend to keep anything unwanted out of our yard. Although I was not able to get any pics of the coyotes, I imagine they looked much like the picture below.

While Noah and I were away on vacation in Texas, we got a call from Noah's brother saying that a Mountain Lion was caught on video by hunters a 1/2 mile east of M-37 in Grant (we live 1/2 mile west of M-37 in Grant...Yikes!). I quickly went to WZZM13's website to check it out. Here is the link:

Newaygo County Hunters Say they Spotted a Cougar

On further investigation on WZZM13's website, I found another video shot in December 2008 of a possible cougar in Kent City. Here is that link:

Cougar spotted in Kent City?

While I have heard rumors of Mountain Lions returning to Michigan, I hadn't realized they were so close to home! Now I think of all the times in the last two years that I have gone walking alone in the woods with Rozalyn. I am sure Roz would have scared the big cat off, but I can't imagine what I would do if I came across it! Anyway, I am more worried about Mountain Lions attacking our alpacas than attacks from black bear, bald eagles, or coyotes. Although Noah assures me that there are a very low number of cougars running around our neck of the woods and they have plenty of deer and other prey to snack on, I still worry about it. Cougars can become quite large and range in length from 5-9 feet and weigh anywhere between 65 and 250 lbs. They tend to feed on ungulates, like white tail deer as well as smaller prey. They will usually only kill one large ungulate every two weeks. They are ambush predators and tend to stalk their prey. Fortunately for me, they are reclusive and tend to avoid any contact with humans. Upon a little further research, I found that when faced with a cougar, experts suggest exaggerating the threat to the animal through intense eye contact, loud but calm shouting, and any other action to appear larger and more menacing, may make the animal retreat. Fighting back with sticks and rocks, or even bare hands, is often effective in persuading an attacking cougar to disengage. As with many predators, a cougar may attack if cornered, if a fleeing human stimulates their instinct to chase, or if a person "plays dead." I will keep these tips in mind from now on while walking. As beautiful as these creatures are, I just hope that neither I nor the alpacas or any of our other pets are ever faced by this.

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