LANSING?-Coyote sightings are becoming more numerous in Michigan's urban and suburban areas.
Although coyotes have lived in these areas for many years, the population is on the rise and increased sightings have caused concern among residents that their pets or children may be in jeopardy.
Coyotes are medium-sized canine predators, related to wolves, domestic dogs and foxes. Coyotes in Michigan breed in January through March with pups born about 60 days later. During breeding season and - especially when pups are born - coyotes become more defensive of their territories.
This territorial behavior can occasionally result in attacks on domestic dogs. Most attacks on domestic dogs are defensive attacks, not predatory behavior. Outdoor cats, however, are at risk because coyotes will target them as prey.
In the summer and fall, coyotes may become more vocal as family groups are mobile and pups and adults call to each other. Territorial disputes can also result in vocalizations. These sounds are often heard by people and can cause some concern, though vocalizations are generally the result of interactions between coyotes, not fights with domestic animals or part of hunting behavior.
Coyotes primarily feed on small mammals such as mice and voles and will occasionally feed on some game species such as rabbits, turkeys and even deer. Fawns are hunted when they are young, but coyotes will take all deer opportunistically, especially in a winter with deep snow.
Coyotes will prey on domestic animals such as sheep and poultry - even calves - but instances of such predation have been rare to date in Michigan, though they are common elsewhere in the United States. Although coyotes also eat berries and other plant material, small mammals, such as rodents, make up the bulk of their diet, even in urban and suburban areas. This is a positive attribute.
As development in rural areas increases, the chance for interaction between coyotes and people increases. As coyotes become accustomed to living in proximity to humans, they begin to associate humans and homes with food.
Because most urbanized areas are closed to hunting, coyotes have no negative experiences with people to reinforce their natural fear of humans. As a result they become bolder and are more easily spotted by people.
Just because you see coyotes, there is no reason to assume they are causing problems or about to cause problems.
If you suspect or know you have coyotes in your area but have not seen any signs that they are habituated to people, a few simple precautions can greatly reduce chances of a negative encounter with coyotes.
Coyotes in urban areas are generally hunting for typical prey; mice thrive in tall grass, under buildings, in trash, and in vacant lots. Reducing habitat for prey species by removing brush piles and mowing areas of tall grass or taking other steps to reduce rodent populations decreases the chance that coyotes will frequent your yard.
Bird feeders can also attract rodents and serve to attract coyotes. Removing feeders and cleaning up bird feed for a couple of weeks can help to reduce coyote visits to your yard. Finally, it's not a good idea to feed any pets outside as the food will attract coyotes and other species like raccoons, skunks, and opossums.
Coyotes may also learn that other food sources may be found near homes and will sometimes take advantage of pet foods and trash left out overnight. Bringing pet foods in at night and placing trash out the morning of pick up can help. Never intentionally feed a coyote.
Coyotes generally retain a natural fear of people even when they adjust to frequenting urban areas. Coyotes that do not run when yelled at or when they see a person, may be animals that are becoming habituated to people.
Coyotes that run and exhibit fear of people will usually not cause problems. If a coyote does not run from people or approaches a person and is not easily frightened away, it may be an animal of concern.
If you suspect you have a coyote that is potentially a dangerous animal, you have several options. Consult your local ordinances; if legal hunting or trapping can occur in your area, consider finding a hunter or trapper to remove the animal.
Coyote hunting and trapping has increased in popularity in Michigan in recent years and there may be active hunters and trappers near your area. If this is not possible in your area, you should contact an animal damage control company. A list of permitted companies is available on the DNR website (www.michigan.gov/dnr).
Coyotes that learn to feed on domestic animals will probably have to be removed to prevent the problem from re-occurring. Small pets should be kept inside or attended if let out, especially at night, when coyotes are most active.
Poultry should be confined to a coop and kept in a fenced in area; free-range poultry (even those within fences) should be locked in a coop at night. Livestock can be protected at night in barns or through the use of guard dogs.
Motion-sensing lights or a radio plugged into a motion detector may also work to frighten coyotes away, although coyotes often learn that these devices pose little threat. Detailed damage prevention techniques are available through the DNR website.
Damage prevention is the most effective solution to coyote problems. A local DNR office may also be contacted for specific solutions.
Both coyotes and people are here to stay. Taking a few precautions will help make it enjoyable to have an occasional sighting or hear a coyote howl at night.