by Lisa Wolling, Executive Director
If you have been on social media lately, or local “Next Door” sites, you’ve no doubt seen increasing reports of coyotes being spotted in our area. This month’s article will clear up some myths and misconceptions about this “wily” dog-like animal.
The Coyote is similar in size and look to a small German Shepherd. They have long, slender legs, a bushy tail with a black tip (which is generally carried down, as opposed to dogs and wolves who generally run with their tails up), and large, upright ears. Their coat color can vary, but it is usually gray or buff-colored. Their eyes are typically amber or yellow in color. Generally, coyotes weigh between 25 and 40 pounds. Coyotes’ lifespan is typically 10 to 12 years.
Coyotes are common throughout Texas, and they have taken over much of what historically was the range of the red wolf. They are extremely intelligent and adaptable with keen senses of sight, smell, and hearing. They seem to adjust quickly to human expansion into their habitat and can now be found more commonly in urban and suburban neighborhoods. They are primarily nocturnal, but they will hunt all hours of the day or night and are often seen around dawn and sunset. Coyotes may live alone or in small packs of up to six individuals. Coyotes are strong swimmers and quite fast while running; they can travel as fast as 40 miles per hour. Coyotes are well known for their howling, which they do to keep in touch with other coyotes in the area. They also call to each other with short, high-pitched “yips”.
Coyotes will eat just about anything and are very opportunistic feeders. They primarily eat rabbits, rodents, and carrion, but they will also eat insects, lizards, snakes, fruit, vegetable matter, and fish (and maybe the occasional road runner, ACME birdseed and anvil notwithstanding). When they live in proximity to human development, they may also scavenge trash or prey upon small, domestic animals.
Because of their adaptability, coyotes require minimal cover or shelter to survive, but they will seek out a den for the birth and care of their young. They usually prefer natural cavities or the abandoned dens of other animals rather than digging their own den. Coyotes are considered monogamous, and pairs often remain together for several years (they may or may not remain together for life). After a gestation period of around 65 days, pups are typically born some time between March and May, and litters of five to seven pups are average. The female remains in the den with the pups for several weeks after giving birth, with the male bringing food back for his mate and pups.
Urban and suburban coyotes, like urban deer, are symptoms of a larger problem. With continued commercial and residential development on what used to be open wildlife habitat, human/wildlife encounters, interactions, and conflicts are bound to occur. As with other wildlife that humans may consider “nuisance animals”, trapping and/or relocating of coyotes is not feasible, nor will it eliminate urban or suburban wildlife issues as more animals will then simply move into the “vacant” area. The real solution is public education to teach people how to coexist with coyotes and other wildlife. There are some simple things we can all do to minimize unwanted interactions:
- Coyotes, as with most wildlife animals, should be very wary of humans. They can, however, become overly comfortable around people if they are fed and they then come to associate people with an easy meal. Any wild animal that has lost its fear or wariness of people can become aggressive and dangerous, so is important to not feed wildlife animals all. In addition to not intentionally feeding coyotes or other animals, do not leave pet food or water bowls out after dark; secure lids to garbage cans or keep cans inside of a shed or garage where they are not accessible (smaller trash cans put on the curb for collection may need lids secured with a bungee cord if necessary); secure small livestock or poultry in pens; and keep small pets inside unless supervised. Coyotes do not normally pose a threat to livestock, but hungry coyotes may occasionally take small domestic animals or poultry as an easy meal.
- Keep compost piles securely covered. Compost piles should never include meat, bones, or fat, as these items will attract coyotes or other wildlife even more quickly than decomposing vegetable matter.
- Remember, coyotes are opportunistic feeders and they typically look for smaller prey animals. To them, your pet cat or small dog looks like an easy meal! Keep pets inside. Outside pets should be secured in a kennel or covered exercise yard, or better yet walked on a leash (especially at night). Most wild animals (including coyotes) are naturally wary of people and will usually steer clear of you.
- Do not feed birds or squirrels on the ground. Use bird feeders that can be hung above the ground and clean up spilled seed from the ground. Spilled seed will attract mice and/or rats, which will in turn attract coyotes.
- If you have fruit trees, keep them fenced, or pick up any fruit that falls on the ground. Same goes for vegetable gardens.
- Please do not feed feral cats, especially after dark. This concentrates too many cats in one area which can, in turn, encourage coyotes to prey on cats (as well as scavenge on the food left out for the cats).
- Minimize brush piles, overgrown cover, and keep children’s play areas clear to avoid attracting rodents and other small mammals that may, in turn, attract coyotes.
- If you are in an area where coyotes have been seen or are common, use noise-making devices when walking (including walking dogs) to scare them off. Portable air horns, bike horns, or other noisemakers work well. In a pinch, throwing rocks can also be effective to scare them off. If you let small pets out in your yard off leash after dark, these same devices, plus bright lights, can be used prior to letting pets out to scare off any potential threats.
Coyotes have an important role to play in a healthy ecosystem. They kill many rodents and insects (such as grasshoppers) that can be harmful to crops, plants, and our health, and they also keep areas clear of carrion, which could otherwise spread diseases. Hopefully with some facts about them and what risks they can (and cannot) pose, people will learn to coexist with them.
To learn more about what we do and view pictures of many of the animals we assist, please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SavingTexasWildlife. Our educational visitor’s center is open the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., located at 29816 Dobbin Hufsmith Road, Magnolia, Texas, so the next open house date will be Saturday, April 13. Come on out and visit us, learn a little more about local wildlife, do some fun activities and a craft, and meet some of our non-releasable wildlife educational animals. Also, registration is now open for our summer camps. Due to popular demand, this year we will be offering four sessions (two in June and two in July). For more information, or to register for any of the sessions, please go to www.ftwl.org/node/179. We also host birthday parties and educational presentations. For more information about events, birthday parties, camps, or educational presentations for scouts, schools, or other groups, please visit our website or email firstname.lastname@example.org. There are many other ways you can help support our efforts, too. Details can be found at www.ftlw.org, and then click on “How to Help”.