Q: Every day I take my two golden retrievers for a long walk in the woods, throwing them the ball as we go along. At times, they catch a scent or hear a noise and run off for a few minutes but always return.

Yesterday, they dropped the ball and ran off. After a few minutes, I heard another dog bark and mine came back. At first I thought it was a neighbor out for a walk. Then the barking started getting closer and closer and I couldn't see anything. Finally, off to the right, I saw a coyote barking at us. It continued to bark and follow us from about 50 feet away, as if patrolling a territory. Any ideas on what was going on?

Are rabies a problem with coyotes? This one looked very healthy.

— Jack, Alford

A: First of all, keep your dogs on a leash.

The coyote may well have been protecting its territory. Or, as Jonathan G. Way mentions in his website (www.easterncoyoteresearch.com/easterncoyotelifecycle), "Adults often follow dogs, sometimes even on a leash, as they see the dog as a potential threat to their pups, whom are likely hiding nearby in the woods. The vast majority of people I have talked with that have experienced this claim the coyote will follow the person and the dog for a certain distance and then, strangely, simply turn around and walk off. It is sort of like an escort service to get the dog (with the associated person) to leave the general area."


You cannot tell if an animal has rabies by looking at it. Rabid animals may act strangely after the virus affects their brains, or they may seem just fine. Sometimes, rabid animals may aggressively attack people or other animals, sometimes not.

All mammals can contract rabies, but the current outbreak primarily affects raccoons and bats with some spillover into skunks, foxes, coyotes and occasionally woodchucks. Rabbits, opossums, squirrels, chipmunks, rats, mice and other small rodents are rarely affected.

Rabies does infect coyotes, although to a lesser degree than raccoons and bats. Last January, 35 miles north of Boston, a coyote attacked at least two people outside their homes.

Q: It's Nov. 16 and a female cardinal is drinking from my bird bath. You mentioned [in a past column] that you had a heated saucer for your birds for the winter to come. I wonder where you were able to find this.

— Mary H., Pittsfield

A: My particular 20-inch saucer was purchased online, and I don't recall what the website was. I ran a search for "heated birdbath with thermostat" and came up with a good assortment to choose from.

I also found that Wild Birds Country Store, 783 Main St., Great Barrington (413-644-9007) carries an assortment of heated bird baths and saucers, as well as de-icers to place in a standard birdbath. Ward's Nursery, also in Great Barrington, also carries de-icers.

Either way, I suggest you fashion a cover to put on top of the saucer or bird bath at night to help keep the water warm, hence using less electricity to maintain above-freezing temperatures. If I manage to get ours out this winter, I plan on placing a piece of Styrofoam insulation board with perhaps a brick fastened to the top to serve as both a handle and weight to keep it securely in place.

Q: There are so many different suet cakes for birds in the stores now, that I just don't know what "flavor" to get. Do you happen to have any suggestions?

— David, North Adams

A: The one I have not tried yet is the berries and suet, and the one I most often recommend is the "Woodpecker Treat" or similar.

Most of the ones I see marketed today are loaded with seed, leaving little room for suet. I shy away from ones that appear to have the least suet and most seed. And now that the cold weather is upon us, you can put out a chunk of honest-to-goodness real suet. Just ask your butcher. I think it far exceeds the suet cakes, especially if hanging alongside a seed feeder.

Thom Smith welcomes your questions and comments. Email him at Naturewatch@live.com or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201.