Please Don’t Feed the Coyotes — And Other Useful Tips for Coyote Coexistence
Coyotes. For decades the number of coyotes living in some urban areas has been increasing because they have learned to find food, water and shelter inside city limits. They have also learned that people don’t usually pose a threat inside city limits and some people actually feed them. But, are more being seen today in urban or suburban neighborhoods because of advances in technology, such as home security and doorbell cameras, and social media venues/platforms that quickly spread word of reported sightings? Increased news coverage and social media reports of coyotes leads to more people being aware of and looking for coyotes in their area. It becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Sightings increase in the winter when the foliage drops from the trees and coyote activity picks up in January when their breeding season begins. Late winter through early summer is generally the time when the most aggressive coyote encounters with people and pets occur. This coincides with the breeding season in late winter (January-March) and when coyotes have litters that they are protecting (gestation is about two months). Some good online resources to learn more about these intelligent and adaptable animals, which are the largest wild predators in Illinois, are: Urban Coyote Research Project, Wildlife Illinois, Coexisting With Coyotes, Coyote Awareness and Coyote Facts.
“In 2017-18, surveys of hunters and trappers estimated that 107,000 coyotes were harvested by hunters (87 percent) and 16,000 coyotes were harvested by trappers (13 percent) in Illinois,” explained Stan McTaggart, Illinois Department of Natural Resources’ (IDNR) Furbearer Biologist. Harvest can vary with pelt price as most hunters and trappers utilize the pelts from the coyotes they take and many garments still use the fur from coyotes for the trim on parkas and winter coats. Hunters and trappers also assist neighbors and landowners to reduce coyote numbers in areas where they occasionally cause conflict with livestock or concerns for pet owners. This reduction is short-lived, however, as coyotes quickly move into suitable habitat that is not occupied and increase litter sizes in areas with plentiful food.
The removal of individual coyotes that have shown aggressive behaviors is more effective than trying to get rid of ‘all’ the coyotes in an area. The trapping season is restricted to the fall and winter months (November 10-February 15), while the hunting season is open year-round. A liberal hunting season allows landowners to remove problem animals without having to obtain a special permit. Biologists monitor the population to ensure that hunting and trapping do not negatively impact the population.
Some Useful Tips for Making Your Neighborhood Undesirable to Coyotes
Q: I thought coyotes were wild animals. Why are they in my neighborhood?
A: They are wild animals. However, as open lands have decreased over the past three decades and human population has increased, coyotes have not only survived but have adjusted. While they still make their homes in wooded and open areas coyotes have also moved into surrounding neighborhoods. Many wildlife species are highly adaptable and live around us including squirrels, rabbits, Canada geese, raccoons, etc.
Q: Are coyotes a danger to my family?
A: Most coyotes are leery of people and tend to stay away from humans. However, like any wild animal, they can be unpredictable and dangerous. While attacks on humans are rare, young children should never be left unattended. Coyotes can pose a significant threat to small pets. Once individual coyotes become aggressive towards people or pets, they may need to be removed (typically by a professional Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator).
Q: What happens if I encounter a coyote?
A: If you see or are approached by a coyote, pay attention to the animal’s behavior. If it is exhibiting normal coyote behavior and hunting (small mammals), traveling and keeping its distance, there is nothing to worry about. If the coyote is keyed in on you, stalking or following you, or approaches you, exhibit caution. Do not run away. Instead, yell, wave your arms, and/or throw an object at the animal. It is also a good idea to carry a walking stick. Immediately report any aggressive coyote sightings to your city or county animal control division, 24 hours a day. In the case of a coyote attack on a human, call 911.
Q: What can I do to make my home and neighborhood undesirable to coyotes?
A: The biggest tip is don’t feed the coyotes either intentionally or by accident and report those who do. Ninety percent of a coyote’s diet is small mammals (mice, rats, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, etc.) but they will also eat birds, snakes, insects, fish, fruit and vegetables. They can be attracted to bird and squirrel feeders, bread that is fed to ducks and geese, pet food that is left outside, and other unintentional food sources. Coyotes can also be attracted to these areas because of the mice, squirrels and other small mammals that gather for the spilled birdseed, corn and other foods. Therefore:
- Keep pet food and food and water dishes inside, especially at night.
- All wildlife need three things to survive: food, water and shelter. Remove these things to make your property/neighborhood less attractive to coyotes.
- Do not keep garbage cans outside if possible or, at the very least, make sure the containers have tight-fitting lids.
- Make sure ripe fruit and vegetables are picked from gardens.
- Stop feeding other wildlife or at the very least, do not allow spillage to accumulate outside of the feeders.
- Understand that when coyotes find these types of food sources in residential areas they may lose their fear of humans and eventually view people and pets as prey.
Q: How do I keep my family pets safe?
A: It is important that dogs, cats, and other pets, especially those smaller in size, not be left unwatched while outside. Coyotes can easily jump over a 4-foot fence, so fencing needs to be tall enough to keep coyotes from going over (at least 6 feet and rollers at the top help) and secured at the ground to keep them from digging under. Pet doors should be secured and remember that invisible fencing is ineffective on coyotes. Coyotes can be attracted to free-ranging domestic and feral cats. Domestic cats should be kept inside.
Q: What do I do if I have an aggressive coyote and why doesn’t IDNR come and get it?
A: Once a coyote becomes aggressive and loses its fear of humans, it is generally impossible to change their disposition. Often coyotes develop these bad behaviors because of feeding (directly and indirectly) and removing individual problem coyotes is the only realistic solution to ensure people and pets are protected. Most of the time, coyote removal will need to be done by a Nuisance Wildlife Control Operator—a professional. Like any professional, they charge for their services and expertise. Individuals will have to pay, or sometimes neighborhoods, villages or cities may help cover the costs of coyote removal. IDNR does not have the staff or resources to offer nuisance wildlife removal.
Q: Where can I get more information?
A: More information on coyotes is available at:
Pam Otto is the Outreach Ambassador for the St. Charles Park District. She can be reached at (630) 513-4346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is adapted from a column appearing in the November 1, 2014 edition of Kane County Connects. For more nature-related articles, visit Good Natured.