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Fauna Series No. 4






Population and Mortality







Other Larger Mammals

Small Mammals


Misc. Diet



Fauna of the National Parks — No. 4
Ecology of the Coyote in the Yellowstone
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The Canada goose (Branta canadensis canadensis) is generally distributed over the park in all favorable habitats in summer, and in winter a number of them are found on the open waters, especially on the Madison, Firehole, and Yellowstone Rivers. When not feeding in the water the geese spend much time grazing on green vegetation on land, at times a mile or more from the water. In late summer, quantities of grasshoppers were eaten at some of the meadows.

Although adult geese are unusually alert it does not seem unlikely that a goose is occasionally captured by coyotes. In winter some remains of geese that may have been killed by coyotes have been found by rangers along streams. However, from the information available, the total winter and summer predation on geese is not extensive. In the spring of 1937 I found remains of four geese along the Lamar, Firehole, and Madison Rivers only by covering long stretches of these streams.

There is always the possibility that some of the geese eaten by coyotes represent carrion. The winter keeper at Canyon said that a goose unable to fly had been seen two successive winters on the Yellowstone River. Such a goose is at a disadvantage and might sooner or later be picked up by a coyote. Rangers E. E. Peterson and Guy McCarty (Yellowstone Nature Notes, April 1930, p. 20) report an incident in which two geese crashed into the steel cable across the Yellowstone River one-half mile above Chittenden Bridge. One goose received a broken wing and the other was swept over the falls.

Goose remains were identified in only 12 droppings. As seven of these droppings were found near a dead goose along the Lamar River and in a hay stack only a short distance away, they apparently represented the same bird.

When a coyote feeds near a group of geese one or more of the birds generally keeps a close watch. Usually the coyote pays little or no attention to the geese even though it may be within 40 or 50 yards of them.

Geese in the park nest in various situations. Two nests were found on top of hay stacks at the Buffalo Ranch. In passing one of these a goose on the nest lowered its head and neck against the hay but at the same time kept a close watch of me. Many nests are built on hummocks and islands in the water and others on the mainland. There was not time to make a detailed survey of the extent of coyote predation on goose nests and young, but information indicates that many geese were being successfully raised in the park.

Canada geese
Figure 53— Canada geese spend much time on land but their watchfulness makes it
hardly worthwhile for coyotes to attempt to stalk them.
Elk Park, April 12, 1938.

On July 11, 1937, on the Lamar River near the Buffalo Ranch where coyotes are plentiful five families of geese were seen and a few days earlier another family was recognized as different from the others because of the large size of the young. Other families noted in 1937: June 11, Oxbow Lake, (2); Floating Island Lake, (1); June 15, Madison River, (1), Nymph Lake, (2); June 16, Yellowstone River, (2); June 17, Buck Lake, (1); June 19, Pelican Creek, (1). The 16 families ranged in size from one to six, and made a total of 49 young. There was no systematic effort to make a large count of geese. They were only tabulated as I happened to note them. Since geese can hide well on shore it is probable that some were overlooked in the territory covered. The three young at Floating Island Lake were seen there until September 30. Late in September the family was flying about but often returned to the home lake.

During the summer of 1938 I spent relatively little time in the park but noted several geese with young as follows: June 4, at a shallow pond near Trumpeter Lake, two families of two and four young; June 8, Floating Island Lake, one family of seven; July 12, on Nymph Lake, one family with one young and two with four in each; July 13, Oxbow Lake, a family with six young. On August 13 there were still seven young at Floating Island Lake and five were seen at Oxbow Lake.

The general abundance of geese and the prevalence of young indicates that geese are doing exceptionally well in Yellowstone. The few goose remains in the droppings show that these birds seldom fall prey to coyotes.

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