by Dan Zarlenga, Missouri Department of Conservation
Breeding season for coyotes begins in February, which makes them more active this time of year. The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) says it’s important to be vigilant of pets during this time in areas where coyotes are known to live.
Unlike many other kinds of wildlife, coyotes adapt particularly well around human development and coexist with people in many places. These areas can include municipal parks and other urban green space, golf courses, cemeteries, suburban wooded common areas, and even within subdivisions themselves.
As a result, it’s possible for encounters to occur between these wild canines and people’s pets. Coyotes have also been known on occasion to attack small dogs.
However, MDC Wildlife Damage Biologist Tom Meister said that coyotes may attack family pets not as a food source, but because instead they see them as territorial competition.
According to Meister, one of the secrets behind the coyote’s survival success is their diet.
“A true scavenger, the coyote will eat just about anything, including: foxes, groundhogs, mice, rabbits, squirrels, fruits, vegetables, birds, insects, carrion (dead animals) and common household garbage,” Meister said.
Coyotes typically breed in February and March. Females give birth to four or five pups about 60 days later.
“Because food requirements increase dramatically during pup rearing, April through May is when encounters between humans and urban coyotes are most common,” Meister said. At that time, coyotes are on the move more seeking food, and may act more aggressively toward any animal they see as potential competition, like family dogs.
So how can encounters between coyotes and people be minimized? These three things are key: food, scare tactics, and vigilance.
First, ensure that your yard or property has no food sources readily available to coyotes.
“If food is deliberately or inadvertently provided by people, the adult coyotes and their pups quickly learn not to fear humans and will develop a dependency on these easy food sources,” Meister said.
He urged dog and cat owners not to leave pet food outside, to securely cover all trash containers, and consider waiting to put trash containers out as close to pick up time as possible.
Think about bird feeders too. “While coyotes are usually not interested in bird food,” said Meister, “bird feeders attract rodents, especially squirrels, which in turn attract coyotes.”
It’s also a good idea use scare tactics to instill fear of humans into coyotes. If a coyote should approach or be seen in the yard, Meister suggests doing everything possible to make it feel unwelcome. This could include yelling or making other loud, threatening noises, throwing rocks, spraying garden houses, or blowing air horns. If its encounter with humans is unpleasant, a coyote will be less likely to come back.
Finally, vigilance regarding pets is extremely important. Meister recommends pet owners not leave their pets outside unattended, especially during the hours of dusk, nighttime and dawn. These are the periods coyotes are most active. Owners should be with their pets and have them in constant view during these times.
Installing a fence around yards may also help. Fences should be at least six feet high and dug into the ground six inches deep, so the agile and resourceful canines cannot jump or dig under them.
More information on dealing with nuisance coyotes can be found at https://short.mdc.mo.gov/Zaa, or in a free brochure obtainable by writing: Controlling Conflicts with Urban Coyotes in Missouri, PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102. Or e-mail email@example.com.