The loveliness of Spring and all its fertile charms of gold-like green, flowers, and babies is by far most folks’ favorite time of year. Renewal and life are all around us, reminding us of why we live here after all. But, some of the new babes arriving to the world this month may be creating malaise in the hearts of many.
Most coyote pups are born in April, and their advent marks a time of increased activity and visibility for these animals. Turns out that, litters of four to nine hungry young mouths require a lot of calories to be brought in by mom and dad, so the pressure is on to get out there and hunt. Next to February, when adults are on the lookout for love and may range up to 50 miles in a night searching for a mate, April and May mark the most active times of year for coyotes. Pups must be fed, and small packs of five to six adults will cover a territory of five to ten square miles in search of dinner. In the pursuit of food to feed their rapidly-growing kin, coyotes may venture out more during the day and be emboldened to traverse into humans’ territories- places they generally avoid. And, like any good family member, a coyote may react aggressively if it feels its young are threatened by, oh, say an off-leash dog or bumbling human that wanders unknowingly into the den site. Now, consider that coyotes (Canis latrans) range across all 88 of our counties, are highly adaptable, and can successfully thrive in the most urban of environments. With all the general hubbub that comes with providing for and protecting a family at this time of year, it’s no wonder that spring marks a time of heightened human-coyote interactions.
Pups: cute, rambunctious and lots of work for mom and dad!
Most of the people I meet are very, very scared of coyotes. Or, hate them flat out. Which is a shame, because they are truly beautiful animals whose presence may be helping to improve the health of our ecosystems, and whose tight familial bonds and undeniable proximity to man’s best friend may well endear them to anyone willing to give the species a chance. Alas, as predators, we are inclined to see them as dangerous and evil, a symbol of the primeval, untamed and dark wilderness that we have so effectively beaten back into submission over a couple hundred years of conquest and development. It is worthwhile to note that nearly every landscape in our country settled for human habitation has at one point or another been effectively exterminated of any animal large enough to frighten us or compete with us for food. Bobcats, cougars, bears, lynx and wolves all once were common throughout Ohio, but not anymore. Depending on which side of the fence you sit on, that may be called a job well done. Others may call it foolish genocide.
In a world without predator controls, prey animal populations (think herbivores or omnivores like deer, rabbits, mice, etc.) often soar. Out-of-whack populations quickly strip and damage the plant communities that support us all. Take the examples of white-tailed deer and Canada geese. Only about a hundred years ago both species were effectively extirpated (read: hunted until there were no more) in Ohio. Noble re-introduction efforts restored populations to our state, which over time blossomed, and now seem to be running rampant. Our large-scale clearing of the land (did you know deer prefer your open suburban yard to deep forest?) and eradication of predators mean that today, in most urban and suburban communities, the biggest population control for deer and geese are cars. We are vexed by property and landscape damage, auto accidents, and poop all over our lawns. In some locations, there are over 100 deer per square mile. A healthy population density would be 15 -20. Not exactly a picture of ecological harmony.
In enters the value of the predator. By naturally and effectively capping exponential growth of other species, the balance of ecosystems can be restored. Now, we tend to be uncomfortable with the animals who do the killing in our world. The real brutalities of nature are hard for us to accept in our own space and time, though we may be romanced by the grotesque spectacle of predator-prey drama if it is properly presented to us innocuously, anonymously, or perhaps through a glowing screen. The same family who shudders in horror at the thought of an innocent fawn being taken down by a coyote in their yard may very well shake their heads and turn their attention back to their fast food meat feast, or hop online to click on the latest link promising gory details of some animal vs. animal encounter captured on film. We don’t want to personally engage with the fact that animals kill other animals, that we eat other animals, yet we are willing to be entertained- and nourished- by death at arm’s length.
So, what would be the value of welcoming these shadowy night stalkers into our lives? Well for starters, wildflowers will start to show up again, as they have a chance to grow unmolested by armies of hungry herbivores. Your car insurance rates may go down. You can plant hostas without covering them in ten gallons of noxious deer repellant. I’m not saying coyotes are a panacea for long-entrenched ecological problems, but they sure could be a key step toward a healthier, safer world.
Interestingly, while Ohio’s cornucopia of predators has never been formally welcomed back via re-introduction efforts, coyotes have gone ahead and invited themselves in. Not originally native to our state, they have on their own volition migrated over from the west and north. Now, they can be found in every county of Ohio. The jury is still out on how their populations are affecting other wildlife. They doubtlessly help to control a wide variety of rodents and other varmints, and have been documented hunting deer, especially fawns. Coyotes regularly raid Canada goose nests for eggs. They may also be competing directly for resources like rabbits with one of our smallest native predators, the red fox. Only time- and research- will tell for sure how our world is changing as a result of coyote introduction.
True enough, one repercussion of having predators in our lives means that the furrier members of our families like cats and dogs may be targeted as either competitors or easy meals. As one Naturalist put it, “It doesn't matter whether the calories come in the form of Pekingese or possum, Maltese or mouse, Bichon or bunny.” Jokes aside, clearly no one wishes to see such an outcome, which means we must act as thoughtful protectors of our pet friends. If you know coyotes are active in your area (and they probably are), keep an eye on your pet. Consider fencing your yard as a deterrent. Roll bars or an electric line installed on the tops of a fence greatly increases the protection offered by a fence. Large guarding dogs like Great Pyrenees are highly effective at keeping predators at bay. If those options don’t suit you, you yourself will have to become the in-tune guardian of your domain. Go outside with your pet (yes, even when it’s cold and dark…heck especially when it’s dark!), and make your presence known. If you let Fido out every night at 9 p.m., switch it up as coyotes have a sense of time and can learn schedules. Keep your cat indoors. If you see a coyote in your yard, shout at it, shake a can filled with beans, jump up and down, and generally act like a lunatic. This behavior, called “hazing,” can effectively convince coyotes (but hopefully not neighbors!) that you are too strange to be approached. Keep your trash and compost bins neat and covered. Don’t leave pet food outside, and secure any small livestock you have in predator-proof housing at night.
Want to avoid this? Be a vigilant guard.
If you experience a coyote that seems to have lost its innate fear of people or is acting aggressively, by all means report it to your local law enforcement. Rarely though inevitably, a coyote may become a true nuisance, at which point its removal by experts may be deemed necessary. Don’t call with the hope that removing the ‘yote in your yard will free you from having to cohabit with the species, however. There are others still around, though you most likely won’t notice the coyotes among you that carve out a quiet niche for themselves under the cover of night. They really do prefer to avoid us, almost always.
Don't feed coyotes- or any other wild mammals, for that matter. A fed animal becomes a nuisance. Period.
Like it or not, coyotes are here to stay, so it may behoove you to at least try to respect, if not enjoy, their presence. Fear and hate breed ignorance and hostility, so learn a little more about these interesting creatures before making up your mind. How much suffering on our planet may have been avoided with a little compassion and understanding? It has been said we hate most in others what we dislike in ourselves. Coyotes may seem rude for intruding on our lives, colonizing all suitable habitat, and making us feel vulnerable. But, haven’t we humans pigeonholed wildlife and wild spaces in much the same way across the entire world? Perhaps if we try to see these animals as more than just murdering predators, if we contemplate their remarkable perseverance, incredible intelligence, and loyalty to kin, we may learn to admire them more as equals.
Check out the links below for some more information on coyotes:
Cleveland Metroparks coyote fact sheet and resources
Cool pictures, local story:
Tactics for urban coyote management:
Controlling problem coyotes (agriculture focus):