DARKE COUNTY – Darke County residents may find the number of coyote sightings increasing this time year. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, January is the prime time to spot the nonnative pest for two reasons.
The low temperatures of winter naturally cause a lack of vegetation, and the coyotes’ visibility will increase when they have less shrubs and plants to hide behind.
And January through March is the coyote’s breeding season which, like most mammals, will cause their activity levels to increase.
“This is the time of year when I start getting a lot of coyote calls just for those reasons,” Ohio Wildlife Management Supervisor Brett Beatty said.
When you combine those two factors, don’t be surprised if you find a coyote running through your backyard.
“In the last couple of weeks, we’ve had the snow on the ground and the cold for an extended period of time, so they have to hunt a littler harder to keep their belly full to stay warm,” Beatty said.
Coyotes originally lived in the western U.S, but migrated into the Midwest because of changes to their environment.
“Essentially as the continent was taken over by the Europeans, we eliminated a lot of the big keystone predators, which were direct competitors of the coyotes,” Beatty said. “Ohio used to have an abundance of wolves, mountain lions and black bears. So if you remove those big predators, it leaves a vacuum that could be filled by coyotes.”
The Ohio landscape has also shifted from its original countryside, making it more attractive to coyotes.
“We changed the habitat. We removed a lot of trees and created a lot of the brushy, open land that Ohio is essentially covered with now. So we made a more appealing habitat for them and eliminated their competition,” said Beatty.
Coyotes are now common throughout Ohio’s 88 counties. They most often appear in farmland and mixed pasture/woodland habitats, with the majority of animals located in western Ohio. They are generally most active during dusk and dawn, but can be found hunting at any time. And coyotes are year-round residents.
Coyotes often live in rural areas like Darke County, but also inhabit more urban counties like Hamilton, Franklin and Cuyahoga Counties.
There’s even been research on coyote populations living in dense cities like Chicago and New York City’s Central Park.
“They’re very adaptable animals. They can survive and even thrive in practically any environment,” Beatty said.
Coyotes are usually grayish brown and resemble a small German Shepherd in appearance. However, residents can distinguish them by their pointed ears, slender muzzle and drooping bushy tail.
While coyotes pose very little threat to humans, pets can become easy targets for the predators.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources recommends that residents keep their cats indoor at all times, and at night to turn your lights on before letting a dog outside.
The ODNR also recommends removing any garbage, pet food or other “attractants” that may lead wild animals onto your property.
Coyotes generally prey on small mammals such as rabbits and mice, so they’re generally fearful of humans. However in some urban environments, coyotes have grown accustomed to human behavior and may not show immediate fear.
“If the coyotes continue to grow bold and come closer to a house or don’t show fear, I always encourage folks to make a lot of loud noises and to make yourself appear larger,” Beatty said. “And it’s important to continue the loud noises until the coyote leaves.”
When coyotes don’t immediately run from humans, they’re usually trying to figure out their boundaries, says Beatty. Therefore its important to maintain the hazing until the coyote departs, or it could reinforce the coyote’s behavior.
“You always want to be the last one to give,” Beatty said.
Attacks on humans are extremely rare, and as far as Supervisor Beatty knows, there has only been one Ohio case reported so far. The attack occurred in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and involved a coyote that had contracted rabies, which accounted for its aggressive and erratic its behavior.
And chances are if a coyote doesn’t run off at first sight, other humans are to blame.
“Often people play a part in (the coyote’s brashness), either by feeding the animals either directly or indirectly, which encourages them to interact with people. It continues to reinforce the behavior,” Beatty said. “Ultimately, that could lead to a negative interaction.”
If a coyote frequents your yard and seems to have a lack of fear for humans, the ODNR recommends calling a trapper at the Division of Wildlife at 1-800-WILDLIFE (945-3543).
Coyotes are also legal to hunt throughout the year using traditional hunting firearms, however additional rules and regulations apply during deer hunting season.
For more information about coyote behavior in urban environments, please visit http://www.urbancoyoteresearch.com/