The 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, their range has spread eastward in the last half-century. Coyotes are an extremely adaptable species that are found all across North America including urban areas like Los Angeles, and Chicago, and New York City. Coyotes have been in Ohio for more than 60 years. The first confirmed coyote specimen in Ohio was taken from Preble County in 1947.
It is not unusual to see coyotes in Northeast Ohio. They have been here since at least the 90’s and can be found in both rural and urban areas of our region. Dr. Stan Gehrt, Ohio State University, has been studying coyotes in urban and suburban environments surrounding Chicago. The Cook County Coyote Project website is filled with information on urban coyote ecology.
Coyotes are easily confused with medium-sized, long-haired domestic or feral dogs. They most closely resemble a small German shepherd. They stand about 2 feet tall and weigh between 20 and 50 pounds. Coyotes run with their tail held down rather than parallel with the ground or high over the back as dogs usually do. Field markings include a long, pointed snout, ears erect and pointed and tail round and fluffy. Most will show a thin, but obvious dark line running down the front leg to the foot. The long hairs on the back are tipped with black and create a dark band across the back that extends to the tail, the tip of which is black. Color variations range from tan to reddish to dark brown/black.
The coyote can be found in a wide variety of habitats, including grasslands, brush and forests. 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. However, their presence in urban and suburban environments is increasing, and substantial populations exist in the Greater Cleveland suburbs. They are considered to be one of the most adaptable carnivores. In urban environments, their dens can be storm drains, culverts, under storage sheds, in holes dug in vacant lots and parks, or just about any dark, dry place.
In urban and suburban areas, coyotes are most active in evening and at night, but can be seen at all hours. They are often observed alone but may hunt in pairs or small family groups throughout the year. Each pair or family group may range over several square miles. Family groups are established in many local neighborhoods and in all counties of Ohio. They are not pack animals like wolves, but do function in family groups comprised of the two breeding adults, juveniles and newborn pups.
They 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
Coyotes are part of our park system’s natural resources. Over the past two decades, they have become a normal part of the wildlife populations of the Park District, as well as suburbs and other natural areas throughout northeast Ohio.
Coyotes are a natural control that keeps small mammal populations in check. They also prey on growing populations of feral cats, feral dogs and Canada geese that can cause damage to natural resources. Today, the coyote is the largest mammal to function as a predator in this region. Although coyotes are predators, they are also opportunistic feeders and shift their diets to take advantage of the most available prey. Coyote diets are made up of mammals, mostly small mice and other rodents, rabbits, raccoons, ground nesting waterfowl/songbirds and their eggs, carrion, reptiles and amphibians, and berries and fruits.
Simply seeing a coyote is normally not a cause for concern. 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 please fill out the Eastern Coyote Report Form. These reports provide important information for us to monitor coyotes in the park.
Typically, coyotes are wary of humans, and keep their distance. It is important that this relationship is maintained. Do not give coyotes a reason to get comfortable near people and pets. “Keep Wildlife Wild” by eliminating food sources (pet food, garbage) and stopping intentional wildlife feeding. Pet food and water should be kept indoors to avoid attracting coyotes to your yard. Small pets that are roaming free can look like prey to coyotes. Experts recommend to not leave small pets unattended, keep cats indoors, and pets on leashes.
Coyotes mate in February and early March. Pups will be born from mid-April through May. During this period, coyotes can act aggressive toward perceived threats to the pregnant female and or newborn pups. Coyotes are protective parents, and defend their young just as humans do. Domestic dogs may trigger coyote defense behavior even if they are with their owner and showing no signs of aggression towards an encountered coyote.
Humans encountering coyotes rarely trigger an aggressive response that results in contact. On the very rare chance that a coyote does approach you directly, appears to be intentionally entering your line of travel or begins to follow you, do NOT turn and run because it may trigger a predatory/aggressive response.
Understand that the coyote likely views you, or your pet, as a threat or it may be a sick animal. If you have a pet on a leash, make sure it is under control. Do not release it or command it to attack the coyote(s). Walk slowly backward so that you do not turn your back on the coyote. Back-tracking on 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 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 and summoning others to assist you.
Report any incidents of aggressive coyotes to local authorities including your local animal control agency. Please fill out the Eastern Coyote Report Form after calling authorities.
Although most coyotes are healthy, they can carry raccoon strain and canine strain rabies. Infected animals in the latter stages of the disease will act aggressively towards humans perceived as threats. If someone is bitten or scratched by a coyote, wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water and seek immediate medical attention. Because rabies infections in humans are nearly always fatal, medical authorities recommend post-exposure immunization whenever a person comes into direct contact with a wild coyote during a conflict. If a dog is bitten, the owner will need to ensure a rabies booster is administered immediately. In either of these cases, report the incident to local authorities (Cleveland Metroparks Rangers or local police).
If coyotes approach without fear, become aggressive, or are taking pets from yards, then further action may be needed. Within the Cleveland Metroparks, contact the Ranger Department at 440-331-5530. On private property or elsewhere, contact the local police department or animal control warden. All coyote incidents within the Park District should be reported to Jon Cepek (216-527-9409) or Erik Shaffer (216-780-9609) of the Natural Resources Division.
Six steps to avoiding conflict with coyotes (from www.urbancoyoteresearch.com)
- Do not feed the coyotes
- Do not let pets run loose or be unattended
- Do not run from a coyote
- Repellents or fencing may help
- Report aggressive, fearless coyotes immediately
- Do not create conflict where it does not exist
You can also find urban coyote information from the Ohio Division of Wildlife at: http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/stay-informed/news-announcements/post/so-you-spot-a-coyote-in-your-urban-neighborhood.