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The coyote is generally a slender animal, very similar in appearance to a medium-sized dog. Since the coyote and domesticated dog are from the same family, Canidae, the resemblance is more than a coincidence. Coyotes have a bushy tail which is usually tipped in black and is carried down at a 45 degree angle as the animal moves, unlike that of its other cousin the wolf. The majority of coyotes are gray, though some show a rusty, brown or off-white coloration.
Learn More: ODNR Species Guide Index
Coyotes are currently found throughout the US, although prior to the 1900s they were generally located west of the Mississippi River. The first sighting of a coyote in Ohio was recorded in 1919 and today this wild dog can be found in all 88 counties. Highly adaptable, research shows the coyotes can live in most habitats as long as their needs are met. While some wildlife species have avoided developed areas and often decline as a result of man’s expansion, coyotes seem to succeed.
Coyotes are more easily seen in winter months because of the lack of vegetation and harsher conditions sometimes force them to hunt during daylight hours. They also look much larger than they actually are because of extremely dense winter coats. Central Ohio and Midwest research has revealed that coyotes weigh around 35 pounds on average. Although this is common knowledge amongst scientists, many still believe they weigh much more due to their appearance.
- How to Tell the Difference Between a Fox and a Coyote
- Basic Steps to Deter Coyotes in Your Backyard
- What To Do if you Encounter a Coyote
- 10 Fascinating Facts about Urban Coyotes
Habitat and Habits
The coyote is a nocturnal animal, mostly active during the nighttime and early morning hours. However, when it is less threatened by humans, it will hunt/move from place to place during the day. Furthermore, coyotes are more often seen in winter months when snow cover and harsh conditions cause them to hunt for food in daylight hours.
Considered carnivores, more than half of their diet consists of small mammals including shrews, voles, rabbits and mice. Plants can also be a significant part of a coyote’s diet. Coyotes will eat fruits, grasses, vegetables, insects and carrion. Ample food can also be found in dumpsters or garbage cans as well as bird feeders.
Dispelling Rumors about Coyotes
Because of their diet, it is not common for suburban coyotes to hunt in packs. A group of coyotes is more likely to be a family in which the young are not yet mature enough to survive independently. In areas where winter food consists mainly of herd animals, they do sometimes feed in groups. However, this is less common in central Ohio. As opportunists, coyotes will pursue severely young, injured, and/or dying animals such as deer. As with all animals, coyotes tend to go after the easiest meal and expend as little energy possible.
Coyotes are highly unlikely to attack a person unless provoked or threatened. Coyotes are shy and cautious albeit curious creatures and most often they avoid humans. Across North America, including Canada, there have been less than 150 attacks (an average of 3 per year). Domestic dog attacks are far more common with hundreds happening in Franklin County, Ohio in any given year. Some humans have reported being followed by a coyote. However, most often it was when they were walking a pet.
Domestic cats and dogs are not necessarily seen as a food source, but rather a threat to a coyote’s territory. Coyotes are extremely territorial. They protect their food, their mate (they mate for life), and their young. They scent mark their territories and most often do not cross into another coyote’s territory. Our domestic dogs do not necessarily know how to read coyote signs and are simply seen as an intruder that could possibly do harm. We often unknowingly walk our pets through coyote territories.
Vocalization does not equal aggression. At times the city receives calls about coyotes howling and many believe they’re hunting at this time. Oppositely, they’re bonding as a family and just announcing their territory. Any animal hunting is going to be as quiet as possible.
Many believe the state of Ohio has open hunting season on coyotes because they are bad or evil animals. This however, is not true. Many animals, including woodchucks are so prolific and adaptable that according to the Ohio Division of Wildlife, they can be hunted year round without detriment to the species. Of course permits can be obtained for many nuisance animals including coyotes, on private property.
The Case against Trapping
When coyotes are spotted in urban and suburban settings, people often contact their local wildlife agency requesting that coyotes be trapped and relocated. Others advocate lethal trapping, poisoning or shooting. There are good reasons why these are neither appropriate nor effective responses to the presence of coyotes.
Perhaps the primary argument against attempting to remove coyotes from an area is based on coyote reproduction and behavior facts. In areas where there have been reductions in the coyote population due to human efforts, coyotes typically increase their litter size until the population is again brought to the level that the habitat can sustain. Empty territories also attract coyotes that migrate to fill the void. Therefore, if coyotes are not causing damage in an area then they will protect this territory from coyotes that might pose problems.
Basic Steps to Deter Coyotes
First and foremost it is important to understand that human behavior is the key to keeping pets and people safe when it comes to all wildlife. Often even those captivated by wildlife unknowingly cause harm. Standing and starring at any wild animal or leaving out of fear allows animals to think people are safe or that we’ll leave. On the contrary, animals should leave, moving in the opposite direction of a human. We are a predator and we want wildlife to remember this. Humans should never coax a wild animal closer with food or a soft voice. Potential for harm increases when humans try to interact with wildlife.
Hazing is a great way to safely remind coyotes that they should steer clear of humans. Throw rocks or items in the direction of the coyote, spray water from a garden hose, wave your arms, yell, and look as big as you can. Never leave before the coyote. Wait for it to leave first.
Coyotes are protective, instinctual, and opportunists. They will be attracted to residential yards if a food source is available. Birdbaths, feeders, outside pet bowls, trash, unpicked fruits, and vegetable can attract an assortment of unwanted wildlife. Keeping yards free of these items can be helpful in deterring coyotes.
Never let small pets outside unattended. Not only coyotes, but also large birds of prey, domestic dogs, and automobiles can all be hazardous to our pets. If you are walking your dog through an area where you suspect coyotes are present, carry pepper spray, vinegar in a spray bottle, or even a walking stick. Furthermore, never let a dog off leash in these areas. Studies have shown that dogs on a leash six feet or less in length are far less likely to be attacked due to their proximity to humans.
Lastly, keep yourself safe. Some people are fearful of wildlife and are uncomfortable with any interaction, including the before mentioned hazing techniques. Only do what is comfortable and teach children to do the same.
For more information:
Barbara Ray | Nature Education Coordinator | City of Dublin
614.410.4730 | firstname.lastname@example.org