Wild Pantex — Crafty Coyote
Article by James D. Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Environmental Science Senior Specialist
One would think that I would come to a point sometime in my 30-year career where I could say that I had seen it all. Not me. Like everyone else I may have strong opinions and stances on some things but I remain committed to a “never say never” mind frame when it comes to wildlife. Pantex Agronomist Monty Schoenhals and I were once again in the “right place at the right time” and neither of us would have ever expected to witness a scene that unfolded in front of us one afternoon.
Monty and I were returning from a quick trip out to meet with a contact when we came upon a duck standing right in the middle of our side of the roadway. The duck flushed, and we pulled over to watch it. We wondered if it was healthy and would stay in the air. All of a sudden, a prairie falcon knocked it to the ground and landed on it. That is not something you see every day but, little did we know, the show was only going to get better! The falcon flushed without the duck after a few seconds and we would soon see a ferruginous hawk gliding straight for the duck laying on the ground. A second ferruginous hawk came flying in from another direction. The falcon would have no part of that and began harassing the two hawks that tried to defend themselves by rolling over with talons skyward and towards the attacking falcon.
One of the ferruginous hawks eventually went down and picked up the duck, but not before we saw a coyote bee-lining towards the duck from several hundred yards to the west. The fighting of the three birds of prey had drawn the coyote’s attention and he was sprinting towards the commotion.
One of the two ferruginous hawks landed and lifted off with the duck but dropped it under the relentless attacks of the prairie falcon. By that time, the coyote was near, and he slowed to a trot, grabbed the duck, and trotted off in the same direction he had come from. You will never convince me that this coyote had not had previous experience with this scenario of obtaining an easy meal.
The ferruginous hawk and prairie falcon are among the 202 species of birds that staff and collaborators have documented at the U. S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Pantex Plant. Both species are commonly observed in the region during the fall, winter, and spring seasons. A mere sighting of these birds is rewarding, and each piece of the scene that unfolded in front of us—the capture of the duck, the fighting between the two species, and the almost nonchalant securing of the meal by the coyote—would be considered exciting by anyone fortunate enough to have witnessed.
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Photo 1. One of the many residents of the Pantex Property, this coyote was photographed during a recent study on bobcats conducted by Pantex and West Texas A&M University.