Coyotes (Canis latrans) have been a growing concern in the Southeastern United States since the early 1980’s when they began migrating over from the West. An adaptive species that Darwin would be proud of, this small canine filled a gap in the food chain that was easily occupied in the absence of other large predators. By 1973, both of North Carolina’s top predators, the Red Wolf (Canis rufus) and the Eastern Cougar (Puma concolor couguar), were listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Currently, both species are considered extinct, except where experimental populations of red wolves live. Without competition, coyotes have free-reign of habitat and prey items.
The coyote is historically a predator that lived west of the Mississippi. Preferring open spaces where prey is easily hunted, they have managed to venture into eastern states due to widespread deforestation, land cultivation, and urbanization. Every state except Hawaii and every county in North Carolina is home to a population of coyotes.
Because they prefer open areas with abundant prey and shelter, coyotes have seemingly adopted urban areas as their residence of choice. Living without predators for so long, the presence of coyotes has come as a shock to urban dwelling citizens. No one wants a carnivore in their backyard, especially those with pets or small children.
However, it is our behavior in these neighborhoods that make urban living easier for coyotes than living in the wild. Whether we know it or not, we are likely providing easy food, shelter, and a sense of ease for this species. Because coyotes are not going away, we need to find a way to safely and peacefully coexist.
The Positive Side of Coyotes
Coyotes are the only megacarnivore in most of the Southeastern states. Carnivores help to keep the population of prey species in check, including rodents and deer. They can even make the population of these species healthier by reducing the number of sick or weak animals. In turn, native vegetation may thrive without being overgrazed by deer and other ungulates that coyotes can feed on. Coyotes can also prey on wildlife species that may carry rabies or other diseases, such as mice, rats, raccoons and opossums. Our ecosystem is healthier with the species, and our backyards may also be healthier with the reduced spread of disease. Coyotes have also been known to decrease the number of carnivores that prey on ground-nesting birds. Therefore, if you are a grouse, turkey, or pheasant fan, then perhaps the coyote is your friend.
The Negative Side of Coyotes
While many of the problems that coyotes cause can be greatly reduced with a change in human behavior, there are some problems that exist simply because this species is new to the Southeast. First, their presence endangers the reintroduction of red wolves. The two species have been known to hybridize, causing complications for wolf biologists. The two species also look very similar, and misidentification has proven fatal for many red wolves. Fatalities may increase if the proposed night hunting of coyotes gets approval.
Second, coyotes do pose a minor threat to human and pet safety. While rare, coyotes have been known to carry rabies, and desensitization to humans can embolden coyotes leading to increased aggressive behavior and less fear of humans. Pet owners also fear for the safety of their pets, which coyotes may choose as a prey item.
Many of these negative aspects can be greatly reduced with some simple alterations to our behaviors as we begin to live among them.
Tips to Safely Live with Coyotes
-Do not feed pets outside
-Bring pets inside at night, including dawn and dusk when coyotes are most active
-Always keep your dog on a leash
-Do not keep a birdfeeder in your yard. Or, if you choose to have a bird feeder, clean up after it daily. Seeds that fall from feeders can attract rodents into your yard which, in turn, attract coyotes
-If you keep a compost pile, secure it in a safe location where wildlife cannot get to it
-Keep a tight-fitting lid on your garbage can, and do not put it on the curb until the morning of pick-up
-Ensure that the vegetation around your property is mowed and clear any unnecessary brush. High grass can provide coverage and habitat to both rodents and coyotes
-Close off all exposed entrances to the underside of porches, crawl spaces, sheds, etc. where coyotes might try to den.
If you see a coyote in your yard or on the street, let it know that it should not be there:
• Stand tall and look dominant
• Wave your arms
• Make noise by either yelling, blowing a whistle, or shaking an aluminum can with pennies inside
• Take a step towards the coyote
• Don’t ignore the coyote
• Don’t back away from the coyote unless it is aggressive
• Never run
• If it does not move, try throwing objects (sticks, earth, aluminum can with pennies, etc.) near the coyote’s feet, never at the head or body
If you see a coyote in a field, forest, or other wild area, do not haze the coyote. You want to teach the coyote that it should be in these wild areas as opposed to your yard or neighborhood. As cute as they are, coyote pups also need to be taught to fear humans. Never feed or approach a coyote pup.
Remember, coyotes are canines, just like our domesticated dogs. They respond very well to positive and negative reinforcement, and these methods can and should be used to teach the coyote where they should live and hunt. These methods also instill fear in them that humans can be dangerous and that they should avoid contact. Coyotes are only potentially dangerous when they stop fearing humans.
Coyotes are here to stay, and whether we like it or not we need to learn how to live with them. If the above tips are followed, then conflict should be reduced and coexistence can begin. We all need to share this land, and as the landscape and climate change we need to be able to adapt with the wildlife species around us.
To learn more about coyote rabies and attack statistics, click here.
To read about coyote myths and facts, click here.
Help Wild South learn more about coyotes in Buncombe County!