At the tail end of a storm that has left our local roads sheeted with ice, it is difficult to imagine that spring is, proverbially, just around the corner. Yet the wildlife in the area is wise to this fact and they are quietly, or not so quietly, preparing. It is mating season for coyotes.
To some, the sound of a coyote’s yips and howls in the night is a thrilling reminder of the wild wonders surrounding us. Others, however, find the sound to be eerie and chilling. Regardless of our perception, the coyotes are communicating with one another and preparing themselves for a new generation.
Typically living in family units or packs, coyotes are for the most part monogamous beings. The breeding pair (“mom and dad”) are assisted by their offspring from previous years in raising the newest litter. Within a stable pack structure, the offspring do not reproduce, and thus each year’s new offspring are limited and the population size is naturally maintained with little need for management by humans.
Highly adaptable animals, coyotes have become quite adept at living in close proximity to humans. Oftentimes we unintentionally encourage them to do so. Humans, purposely or not, provide ample attractants to coyotes. Think for example of a bird feeder. Though the seeds themselves are not necessarily alluring, they attract birds and small mammals to your backyard feeders. Coyotes, subsisting on small animals, may follow. In the springtime months, with wriggling 1lb pups tucked into their dens, coyotes are required to increase their foraging efforts.
These are the times when reported sightings surge.
As you might expect from any animal with young offspring, coyotes will defend their dens from perceived threats. Sometimes, however, they misconstrue who is an actual threat and may startle a passing hiker or dog-walker. For the most part, they are simply employing scare tactics to discourage passersby from approaching the den. To them, instinctually anticipating a predator to raid their dens and kill their vulnerable pups, they are just trying to give us the perception that it’s not worth our time. Asking us to “move along, please”. To us, it appears aggressive and alarming. This miscommunication is simply a matter of language barrier.
These misunderstandings contribute to coyotes’ maligned public perception. Having manipulated our environments so much so that its native inhabitants strike fear in our hearts, communities feel unprepared to coexist with the species that naturally occur here.
The spring brings with it an increase in frenzied phone calls and hysterical news headlines, all feeding into the perception that coyotes are vicious creatures scheming to attack our children or pets. Yet the reality is, you are more likely to be killed by a golf ball than you are to even be bitten by a coyote.
We can peacefully coexist with coyotes. For one, coyotes – like the other predator species before them – offer extremely valuable ecosystem services. Among other benefits, we profit from their presence as they provide natural rodent control in residential areas. Regulating the rodent population through predation, they effectively limit the spread of Lyme disease and other zoonotic diseases to humans.
Though we do benefit from sharing our landscapes with these animals, it is important that we reinforce their natural wariness of humans. Animals that have become acclimated and emboldened can unlearn the problematic behaviors. If you see a coyote lingering too close to human establishments, maintain eye contact with the animal and make exaggerated noises and motions. Utilize nearby items to encourage the coyote to leave the area. Varied hazing (the use of a variety of tools, noisemakers, and people) helps to ensure that the coyote has a negative association with an assortment of items and humans.
If you happen to be lucky enough to spot a coyote out and about, I hope you take a moment to marvel at how adaptable these creatures are and how fortunate we are to live beside such a resilient species.
For questions, please reach out to Dana at [email protected]