Practicing Coyote Coexistence
Sat, March 19, 2022 7:00 AM
By Nicole Gerber, Ph.D.
Master Naturalist NYS
Residents of the region are fortunate to share their environment with many species of wildlife, from birds to butterflies to mammals.
Coyote sightings often occur this time of year, March through April, as coyotes choose dens and have cubs. Once the puppies are born in the spring, the parents take care of them until the summer and strive to protect and educate them. This breeding and nurturing time can make coyote parents more protective — in addition to being more active and visible — and ready to defend their young and their dens. People should be aware and take steps to peacefully coexist with this ecologically significant wildlife neighbor.
Coyotes are an important predator in the environmental food chain, with their diet consisting of voles, mice, shrews, squirrels, rabbits, other small mammals, as well as fruits, berries, wild beasts and even beavers and deer. Coyotes generally search for food from dusk to dawn, but they will hunt during the day to feed their young. They are normally afraid of people and generally avoid interactions. Factors such as the timing of their natural life cycle, species behavioral traits, and changes in their habitats and surroundings can cause coyotes to be seen and come into contact with humans more often.
Understanding how they live and how we can live with them is important because of the many benefits the species provides to the environment.
The mating period for coyotes extends from January to February. Coyotes generally mate for life and control reproductive rates and litter size when the pack structure remains stable. They are observant parents and teach their children about natural boundaries (including the importance of avoiding humans) and food sources, so disrupting the pack structure of coyotes can alter their biology and their behaviors.
As coyote sightings can increase from January to May with mating and cub-rearing cycles, so can coyote-human interactions. Coyotes looking for mates may travel through neighborhoods more often, and coyote parents who care for their families will be more protective when encountering people or pets that are near their home.
There are a few specific steps you can take to minimize unwanted contact:
• Eliminate potential food sources from your garden (unsecured trash or compost, pet/livestock food left outside or unsecured, bird seed fallen from feeders, fallen fruit): not only are these potential food sources for coyotes, but they also attract wildlife, such as rodents, coyotes’ natural prey.
• Pick up dog feces as this can attract coyotes to your yard or surrounding area.
•Don’t feed the coyotes – anywhere and anytime!
•Check your yard, outside buildings and porches for openings wildlife might want to enter to make a den or nest – repair broken boards to eliminate openings.
•Never let a coyote linger or lay down near you – scare it away!
How to Scare Coyotes You Meet Outside
Coyotes are very curious and visual animals, and they will watch you as you watch them. If you walk and stop, they’ll also stop to see what you’re doing – it doesn’t mean they’re stalking you. Applying simple, low-intensity scaring techniques, or hazing, will tell coyotes they are not welcome near your home or in your yard:
• If you see a coyote while walking, pick up small pets and young children and calmly walk the other way while keeping an eye out for the coyote.
•Do not turn your back on or run away from a coyote, or allow your pet to chase or harass a coyote.
• If you encounter a coyote nearby or in your yard, in a very firm and loud voice, shout, “Go away, coyote!” Wave your arms above your head. Make yourself big and strong!
• To be even louder to scare a coyote, you can also use a shaker (coins/pebbles placed in a metal box), whistles, horns, banging metal pots together or opening an umbrella.
•To deter them from entering your yard, you can use flashlights, motion-activated lights, recorded human noises, and ammonia-soaked rags.
Coyotes aren’t the only most active animals between the hours of dusk and dawn. Owls, hawks and eagles can prey on domestic animals such as cats and small dogs. Coyotes may also see small pets as food, especially with habitat and environmental changes, and may see them as a threat to their territory or their young.
• Keep your pets under your supervision and control them on a leash outside after dark, especially in backyards (unfenced and fenced). Keep pets indoors at night or confined in kennels.
• Obey local leash laws when walking dogs in yards, neighborhoods and parks.
• Keep cats indoors for protection – letting cats roam may actually attract coyotes to the area.
•Keep chickens, rabbits and other small animals in covered enclosures constructed with heavy wire mesh. Coyotes, raccoons and weasels can get through the chicken coop screen.
•Neuter pets to reduce the arrival of interested coyotes in your yard.
•Coyote howls do not mean they are celebrating a kill – their vocalizations are greetings between family members or messages about their territories. They don’t travel in packs, so the howl that may sound like a dozen or more coyotes is usually just a few coyotes!
Learning to cohabit with coyotes can be beneficial to our health, as it reduces the number of rodents and reduces the number of tick-carrying mice infected with Lyme disease! Tick-carrying mice spread more tick-related diseases than deer, which people often attribute to Lyme disease. The results of a recent research study demonstrate how predators such as coyotes, foxes and hawks limit the number of tick-bearing mice infected with Lyme disease by not only eating the tick-carrying mice but more importantly by altering the behavior of mice. When there are such predators in their feeding area, mice become more skittish and tend not to wander as far, decreasing the likelihood of them carrying ticks into populated areas. Mice can carry up to 100 ticks on their bodies, and they drop those ticks wherever they go, so the presence of coyotes and hawks may actually work as a natural benefit to our health.
Coyotes are generally reclusive animals that avoid human contact. The best approach, for their benefit and ours, is not to get them used to it. Don’t feed them – keep them wild and beware of people. Do not approach them and teach children that all wildlife should be viewed from a safe distance and not approached. By fostering respect, compassion, and education, the community can safely coexist with coyotes and all wildlife.
If you have questions or concerns about coyotes in your yard, contact the Erie County SPCA to speak to wildlife experts at 716-629-3528, or email [email protected]. (After hours 716-712-0251). To learn more about coyotes, visit the following websites: Coyote Watch Canada: http://coyotewatchcanada.com/ and Project Coyote: http://www.projectcoyote.org/.
Coyote educational information courtesy of Coyote Watch Canada and the Humane Society of the United States.