Thanks to watching old Western movies most people think of the coyote (Canis latrans) as an animal roaming the remote areas of the desert southwest or the ranges of the Great Plains. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Although the coyote once mainly populated the Western United States, its ability to adapt has seen it spread throughout North America, including Alaska and Canada, and south into Central America. More common in rural areas, coyotes are roaming urban areas, feasting on rats, the occasional pet dog or cat and digging through improperly covered refuse containers.
First seen in Ohio in 1919, coyotes now inhabit all 88 counties. The eradication of wolves, their only natural predator beside man, allowed their rapid expansion, but no one is suggesting bringing back wolves to Ohio.
Coyotes are larger than the gray and red foxes also found in Ohio, and they have been known to attack their smaller Canidae (dog family) cousins. Usually weighing between 25-35 pounds, some adults reach weights of 45-50 pounds.
Coyotes range in color from silver-gray to black, but gray and rusty brown predominate with a bushy tail tipped in black. From a distance a coyote most resembles a German Shepherd, making misidentification common.
Coydogs are the product of coyotes mating with dogs, but they are not prevalent. It’s more common to hear of coyotes killing and eating small dogs or larger dogs left chained and unprotected. Never let a small dog out to do his business at night without being on a leash or without close human supervision.
Farmers consider coyotes as pests because they will prey on sheep, calves and chickens. The disappearance of pet cats also heralds is a coyote problem. However, as long as the supply of small rodents and rabbits are plentiful, the typically shy coyote will avoid forays into farmyards or suburban housing areas.
Coyotes breed from late January through March, with the females bearing litters averaging six pups two months later. Both the male and female hunt to feed the young. Most predation of livestock takes place after the young are born and at exactly when spring lambs and calves also are being born.
The Ohio State University has been studying coyote populations, but many questions remain concerning the density of populations. What is known is that an alpha pair of coyotes will maintain an area that other individual or family groups will avoid. Removing an alpha pair hunting for their young, does little to alleviate the problem since other coyotes will move into a cleared area.
Learning to live with coyotes is easier than trying to eradicate them. If you live in a town or the suburbs, do not leave out pet food and don’t overfeed the birds. It invites not only coyotes, but raccoons that are carriers of rabies that can be passed on to coyotes and your pets. Secure your trash containers.
Fences won’t deter coyotes unless they are at five feet or higher. Netwire fencing and electric fencing will keep domestic animals safe, but they not allowed under most urban ordinances. Netwire is expansive and farmers with large areas to fence most often use electric fencing. Some farmers, principally those raising sheep and goats, use guard dogs, llamas and donkeys.
Open pastures rather than those adjacent to woodlands, streams and rivers have fewer incidences of coyote predation. Herding livestock reduces coyote presence because they shy away from humans. If you encounter one, shouting or clapping your hands will cause them to run away.
If coyotes need to be removed, call your local wildlife department or professionals like the Barnes Wildlife Control. But first consider how coyotes are helping control the over population of white-tail deer, the voles digging up your yard, and the Canadian geese that frighten native ducks from their habitat.