Your new neighbors are clever and adaptive with excellent hunting and foraging skills and they are colonizing North America.
Coyotes (Canis latrans) are members of the dog family (canidae) and once lived mainly on the plains and deserts. When wolves and cougars were removed from the eastern United States, there was a void that was easily filled by coyotes. Highly adaptive to change, coyotes are now found in rural, suburban, and urban settings, which mean most people are living in close proximity to coyotes.
Their success in all types of settings stems from their omnivore eating habits, as well as being “opportunityvores” that will eat almost anything that is available. Coyotes will hunt rabbits, rodents, fish, frogs and even deer. They are equally happy with insects, snakes, fruit, grass and carrion. Their ability to use so many food sources including scavenging on animal remains and road-kills, raiding garbage cans and finding pet food left outdoors helps them thrive in all kinds of habitats including urban and heavily populated areas. In suburban areas they have been known to prey upon unprotected pets, including outdoor cats and unsupervised domestic dogs.
Like many in the dog family, coyotes have strong family ties. The females den in the spring and give birth to litters that range from three to eleven pups with four-to-seven being average. Coyotes have the ability to adjust their litter sizes based on food availability and population density. Unlike their dog cousins, both parents feed and protect their young in their territory. Pups born in the spring and stay in the den for about six-weeks, then they start to venture out with the adults. By summer’s end, they are spending some time away from their parents and trying to hunt with their littermates
Identifying a coyote
Coyotes resemble a medium-size dog, and they may look like a small German Shepherd dog but with longer and thicker fur. They have a long, bushy, black-tipped tail that is usually carried pointing down toward the ground. Coyotes are fairly long with a snout to tip of tail length between 4-to-5 feet. They have a long, slender nose and upright ears. Coat color is often grayish-brown, but can vary from a silvery-gray or light honey color to completely black. Weight varies, and their heavy coats can make them look larger. An average female weighs 33-40 pounds with males being a slightly larger average of 34-47 pounds. It is not unheard of to see coyotes in the eastern USA reaching weights of 50-60 pounds. The largest coyote on record was 74.75 pounds.
Are coyotes living near you?
Most people will never see an actual coyote in their community, but here are some ways to tell if you have them living near your home.
Howls— Coyotes are quite vocal and emit a range of sounds including howls, barks, yips, laughs, whines and more. Their howling has created a great deal of western lore, but urban coyotes aren’t always howlers. National Geographic has an excellent audio of how coyote sounds – fair warning, your dogs may not enjoy this audio as much as you do.
Tracks and Scat— Tracks and scat (feces) are indicators of coyotes and may be seen in parks and communities, with new snow and soft earth allowing them to show up better. The tracks are similar to a medium-sized dog foot print. Toenail imprints are usually only seen on the front two toes which is different than your dog’s tracks that usually show all four toenails. Coyote tracks usually move in a straight line, and when comparing to dog tracks you’ll notice domesticated dogs move in all directions.
Another good indicator of coyotes scats (feces) left for communication. Coyote scat is ropelike and often has hair and bone fragments. Coyote scat looks considerably different than dog feces which are softer and may contain bits of dog food. If you see the ropelike scat left in the middle of walking trails that is a good indicator that you have coyote neighbors.
Given the proximity to each other, coyotes and humans are going to have interactions. Some of these are bound to involve dogs and it is important to know as much as possible about the coyotes to keep people and pets safe.
Conflicts can range from seeing a coyote to an attack where a pet dies or in an extreme case where a coyote attacks a human. It is interesting to note that coyotes are often considered a nuisance just from being seen. This could be related to being predators and their size in relation to pet and children. Many complaints about coyotes happen whether or not there has been any damage. In extreme cases, coyotes may attack and occasionally kill pets.
As coyotes continue to move into metropolitan areas there is usually a correlation to the decrease in feral and free-range housecats. The cats may be killed as food or to remove a competitor in the territory. Fox are another casualty of the coyote urbanization for the same reasons. Less commonly, the coyote may attack small dogs or even less frequently medium to large sized dogs.
For the most part, dogs are not attacked when they are with a person, but in rare cases, some small dogs have been snatched right in front of their owner. Some of the small dogs were taken while being walked, some were tied out in their yards and some were taken when a coyote leaped over a fence into the backyard. Small dogs are at risk year around, but attacks on larger dogs seems to be territorial and related to the coyote breeding season, which is usually in January and part of February.
What Creates Nuisance Coyotes?
Coyotes that become nuisances usually do so because they become comfortable eating near people. If people feed wildlife, they are also intentionally or unintentionally feeding coyotes. Once the coyotes associate human buildings and yards with food, they often increase their daytime activities around people too.
Coyotes are the largest predator in many ecosystems that are now sorely lacking native predators. This position in the eco-system makes them a critical part of the food chain, consuming vast quantities of rodents, rabbits and other natural prey every year.
It is important that humans prevent coyotes from developing into a nuisance animal. To do this you’ll need to remove the welcome mat from your yard by keeping all food stuffs inside or locked out of reach. Here is a short list of things that shouldn’t be left outside, pet food, bird feeders, leftovers and grease from the barbecue grill and most importantly, small pets. No buffet in the yard usually means they will move to the next free food source.
Steps to Avoid Conflicts with Coyotes
Do not feed the coyotes
This means NEVER,under any circumstances, feed a coyote. Remember unintentional feeding counts too. Bring your pet food inside, bird feeders are easy dining locations because of all the rodents eating there, compost piles are also good eating and a perennial favorite are garbage cans.
Do not let pets run loose
If you know that coyotes are living close to you, don’t let your pets run loose. This is especially important for domestic cats. If you are hiking on urban trails, keep your dogs on a leash.
Don’t run from a coyote
Running from predators only encourages their prey drive. Rather than run you are better off shouting or throwing something in its direction.
Fencing your yard may help
The higher your fence the better chance you have of keeping coyotes away from your house. I like a six-foot fence, but five-feet could work if you have a roller bar on top. You may also want to investigate a Dig DeFence and Coyote Roller for keeping coyotes out of your yard.
Fearless, aggressive coyotes should be reported immediately
If you encounter a coyote that shows no fear around humans or acts aggressively by barking or growling at people in a yard or park area contact local authorities. In most communities you would contact the police or animal control.
Interesting coyote facts
- Coyotes can run forty miles per hour.
- Coyotes may live up to fourteen years in the wild.
- The scientific name for coyote is Canis latrans, which means barking dog in Latin. The name coyote comes from the Aztec word coyotl.
- The coyote is an important spiritual symbol for many indigenous tribes. He is seen both as a trickster causing trouble and as a provider of many good things for this world. Both sides of coyote are true.
- Wile E. Coyote(also known as “The Coyote”) and The Road Runner are characters from Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons
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