Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Coyote *NOT* ugly

Coyotes often get a bad rap. When I moved into my house my neighbors were quick to warn me about the coyotes and how dangerous they are. I scoffed. I've worked with coyotes, both wild and captive raised and while they are good sized predators they rarely cause problems for humans who know how to live with them. Now I just have to teach all my neighbors.

Coyotes have expanded their range in the past few decades, moving into new areas including urban areas. In Los Angles coyotes manage to live right down in the center of town, living in washes, abandoned buildings, and scrubby lots. In both North Carolina and Massachusetts (the two states I have most recently lived in) coyotes have been found in all mainland areas. Why has this population increase occurred when so many species are loosing ground to habitat degradation, global climate change and rampant pollution? Because coyotes, like opossums, pigeons and ourselves, are amazingly adaptable.

A coyote is a medium sized canine, averaging between 35 and 50 pounds, with a highly variable fur color. Their eating habits are flexible, with rodents, lizards, insects and the occasional deer fawn for prey but also including berries, vegetables, human garbage and pet food. This ability to thrive on a wide variety of food stuff is characteristic of the species that do well in suburban and urban areas.

Their social structure is also flexible, with a pack usually consisting of a breeding pair and their offspring. Occasionally last year's offspring stay with the parents and help with the next years litter.

Are coyotes a problem? They can be. Yesterday my dogs alerted me to a coyote wandering down the trail behind our house. Am I worried about my dogs safety? If they were small dogs I would, just as I would if I let my cats go outside (I'll save that discussion for another soap box). But the truth is that free roaming, off-lead dogs, cars and poison are much bigger problems for pets and coyotes rarely harm humans.

So what do you do if you see a coyote? First thing take a brief moment to enjoy the sighting and then yell at it! That will usually do the trick. If you are out watering the vegetable patch feel free to spray it with a hose. If coyotes are consistently seen in your neighborhood carry tennis balls to throw at the coyote (they won't hurt it but boy they will scare it!).

The best defence is a good offence and good offense against problems with wildlife are removing whatever is attracting them. It means securing your garbage, not leaving pet food outside, and closing up crawl spaces and areas under sheds (good den spots for coyotes). All of these tactics will not only decrease potential problems with coyotes but also with raccoons, opossums, skunks and bears. Don't forget your bird feeder. A bird feeder will attract rodents and rodents will attract coyotes. If you still have a problem contact your local fish and wildlife agency for further advice.

1 comment:

  1. We knew by the prints that there were coyote in our area, but we weren't lucky enough to see one until this past December. Then we ran from window to window to see it cross the yard. :) I envy your chance to get photos!