The eastern coyote (Canis latrans) is a widely distributed dog-like carnivore that can be found in virtually all of North and Central America. Originally a prairie animal, coyotes expanded their range in the 1900’s as humans cleared forest and removed competing predators. Coyotes are an extremely adaptable species that are found in most environments across North America including urban areas like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. They were first reported in Ohio in the early 1900’s and are now found in all Ohio counties. Eastern coyotes are common in Northeast Ohio. They have been in our area since at least the 1990’s and are found in both rural and urban areas
What do coyotes look like?
Coyotes resemble small German shepherds and have a black-tipped tail that is normally held down. The average adult male coyote in our area weighs 37 pounds, and the average adult female weighs 32 pounds. They can be larger or smaller than this, but these are average weights from 40 local coyotes. In our area coyotes are typically tan and gray with a blackish (grizzled) tint because of the long black tipped hairs on their back (picture 1 below). Eastern coyotes can vary in coloration because of small amounts of historic dog and wolf DNA. In our area we occasionally see reddish-colored (erythristic) coyotes (picture 2); black (melanistic) coyotes (picture 3) and blonde or cream-colored coyotes (leucistic) (picture 4). Eastern coyote coloration can also make them look like their larger wolf cousin, especially in the winter when they have a full coat. They are sometimes mistakenly reported as wolves. Wolves no longer exist in Ohio and were last recorded in 1842. In the summer coyotes typically look much leaner and will sometimes lose their hair because of mange.
Where do coyotes live?
Coyotes are common and found everywhere. They are one of the most adaptable carnivores. Studies have shown that there can be more coyotes in urban areas than in natural areas. This is because of the abundance of food resources humans provide (see below). In urban areas coyotes often have smaller home ranges because of these food resources and therefore don’t have to travel as far to survive. Monitoring coyote range with GPS collars in Cleveland Metroparks shows an average home range of 3-4 square miles. Adult coyotes normally excavate one or more dens in the soil, sometimes by expanding the burrows of other animals. They usually choose sites where human activity is minimal. In urban environments, their dens can be in storm drains, culverts, under storage sheds, and in holes and debris piles.
When are coyotes active?
Coyote monitoring in Cleveland Metroparks shows that coyotes will modify their behavior to be more active before sunrise, and after sunset, when people are less likely to be out. This behavior is common in most urban areas of the country where coyotes have learned to avoid humans. Certain times of year coyotes are more active, and we may see them more often during the day. This can be when they are establishing territory, finding a mate or caring for young (see below) and in the winter when people spend less time outdoors. They are usually observed alone or in pairs. If we see more than 2 coyotes together it is typically a family group with the adult pair and their juvenile offspring.
How long do coyotes live?
Coyotes may live as long as 10 years in the wild, though probably 5 to 6 years is more common. The most common cause of death for urban coyotes is typically collisions with vehicles
What is the role of coyotes in Cleveland Metroparks?
Coyotes have become a normal part of our park system’s natural resources. They are the largest mammal to function as a predator. However, they are much smaller than historic predators, like wolves and cougars, that once roamed Ohio. The coyotes smaller body size allows them to survive on a variety of food. They are opportunistic and in urban areas take advantage of pet food, garbage, compost, fruit trees, gardens and even bird feeders. Local studies show that the average coyote diet consists of 40% small mammals (voles, mice, chipmunk, squirrels etc.); 20% rabbit; 20% deer (primarily from deer killed by cars) and over 20% plants (berries, apples, corn, grass, seeds, nuts, etc.). A Cleveland Metroparks study showed that coyotes rarely prey on deer in our area because of these other available food resources. They do play a role in keeping populations of small mammals (mice, voles, squirrels, rabbits) under control.
What do I do if I see a coyote?
Seeing a coyote is normally not a cause for concern. They are common. Coyotes may frequent residential areas out of curiosity or as part of their normal travel routines. Many people have never seen a coyote so unless there is cause for concern (see below), enjoy the rare opportunity, and watch what they are doing. If you do see a coyote within or adjacent to Cleveland Metroparks you can report the observation using the Cleveland Metroparks Eastern Coyote Report Form
. These reports provide information for Cleveland Metroparks to monitor coyotes in the park and neighboring areas. The Ralph Perkins Wildlife Center at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History also provides an opportunity to see live coyotes and learn more about them and other native Ohio wildlife.
How to prevent conflict with coyotes
Healthy coyotes are typically wary of humans and will keep their distance. Most negative encounters with coyotes are caused by human behavior and are very preventable. Not feeding coyotes, staying on trails, and keeping pets on leash are the 3 most important things you can do to prevent coyote conflict. It is also very important to consider where you are.
In your yard
: Coyotes should be wary and easily frightened away. Consider food resources (pet food, garbage, fruit, vegetables, compost, bird seed, etc.) that can attract coyotes, and other wildlife, into your yard. Remove attractants and scare away any coyotes you see in your yard and do not let them become comfortable. Coyotes can be scared out of yards by yelling, banging pans or throwing objects near them. Rarely do coyotes come into direct contact with pets in yards. In the cases where coyotes become attracted to yards by food sources (like pet food) it increases the chance that they will interact pets. Additionally, when coyotes are comfortable in backyards, they may view small, unattended, pets that are running free, as prey. To a coyote, a small pet that is running free may not look any different than a rabbit or squirrel that are regular prey. Make sure you turn lights on in your yard before you let pets out at night to avoid any surprise encounters.
If you are outside your yard and potentially in a coyote’s territory (near a den or pups)
: Stay on approved trails
. Research within Cleveland Metroparks shows that coyotes avoid well used human trails and will try and use other routes. Hiking, or dog walking, off trail increases your chances of encountering a coyote. If you encounter a coyote while outside your yard and potentially in its territory, understand that the coyote may view you, or your pet, as a threat. Coyotes may not run from you, and even stand their ground, if they think their pups or pregnant mate are in danger. Coyotes mate in February and early March. Pups will be born from mid-April through May. During this period, coyotes can act defensively toward perceived threats to the pregnant female or newborn pups. Domestic dogs may trigger coyote defensive behavior even if they are with their owner and showing no signs of aggression towards an encountered coyote. Coyotes are protective parents and defend their young just as humans do.
Always keep your pet on a leash
. Make sure your pet is under control and do not release it, or command it, to attack a coyote. Dogs that bark or chase coyotes can cause a coyote to act defensively. On the very rare chance that a coyote does approach you directly, or begins to follow you, do NOT turn and run because it may cause the coyote to chase you. Coyotes, like dogs, may instinctively follow things that run, it doesn’t mean they are trying to catch you. Walk slowly backward so that you do not turn your back on the coyote. Back-tracking on the route you took, will often lead you out of a den area or away from protected pups. If you are on horseback, slowly leave the area by retracing your route.
If you feel threatened try to frighten the coyote away by shouting in a deep voice, waving your arms, throwing objects near (not at) the animal, and looking it directly in the eyes. Stand up if you are seated. If you are wearing a coat or vest, spread it open like a cape so that you appear larger. Carrying a whistle with you can aid in frightening a coyote.
Dr. Stan Gehrt, Ohio State University, has been studying coyotes in urban and suburban environments surrounding Chicago. His Urban Coyote Research Project website (https://urbancoyoteresearch.com/
) is filled with information on urban coyote ecology and provides additional information to avoid coyote conflict.
Steps to avoiding conflict with coyotes
(From Urban Coyote Research: https://urbancoyoteresearch.com/coyote-info/how-avoid-conflicts-coyotes)
1. Do not feed coyotes
2. Do not let pets run loose or be unattended
3. Do not run from a coyote
4. Report aggressive, fearless coyotes immediately
5. Do not create conflict where it does not exist
Sick and strange acting coyotes
There is always a chance a coyote is sick or injured and may act strangely. Most coyotes are healthy, but they can occasionally get canine distemper. There has been one record of a coyote with rabies in Ohio (in 2005). It is very rare for a coyote to come into actual physical contact with a person or pet but if this occurs then it should be immediately reported. According to the Ohio Department of Health (https://odh.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/odh/know-our-programs/zoonotic-disease-program/resources/rabies
), if a person or pet is bitten by an animal, regardless of whether it's a pet or wild animal, the bite needs to be reported to the county health department where the bite occurred. Bites from animals can spread rabies or other infections, so prompt reporting allows public health to take preventative measures and make recommendations. If an animal bite occurs within Cleveland Metroparks also notify Cleveland Metroparks Police
If a coyote approaches without fear or is becoming aggressive, then further action may be needed. Report these incidents to the proper authorities. Within Cleveland Metroparks, contact Cleveland Metroparks Police at 440-331-5530 and then please fill out the Eastern Coyote Report Form
. On private property, or anywhere outside Cleveland Metroparks, contact the local police department or animal control warden.
Ohio Division of Wildlife coyote information
You can also find coyote information from the Ohio Division of Wildlife at: https://ohiodnr.gov/wps/portal/gov/odnr/discover-and-learn/animals/mammals/coyote