Image © Jean-Guy Dallaire creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/deed.en
Coyotes are yellowish gray with bushy black- tipped tails and whitish throats and bellies. They are 23 to 26 inches high and 3 to 4.5 feet long and weigh 20 to 40 pounds. Coyotes may be mistaken for wolves but are smaller with narrower snouts and more prominent ears. They run with their tails hanging down below their backs; dogs and foxes usually run with their tails sticking straight out.
Coyotes are extremely adaptable and opportunistic, skills that enable them to survive in different habitats, including suburban neighborhoods. They travel along trails, ridges and waterways, defecating or urinating to mark their territories along the way. They are considered nocturnal, but it is normal for them to be active during the day.
Coyotes may hunt in family units called packs, but they more often hunt alone or in male-female pairs. Den are used only during the breeding season and can be under hollow trees, logs or brush piles or in abandoned buildings but are most often in vacant fox or woodchuck burrows. Litters average six to seven pups, which are born in April and May and are on their own in six to nine months. Some people believe that coyote populations are increasing, but there is no data to support this. It is more likely that more people are seeing many of the same coyotes.
Coyotes’ barks and yips can carry 2 or 3 miles. Their diverse vocalizations can make two or three individuals sound like six or more. Howls increase during mating season and decrease when the animals have their young. Contrary to popular belief, coyotes do not howl to announce a successful kill.
Over 90 percent of a coyote’s diet is small mammals, but it will eat birds, snakes, insects, fish, fruit and vegetables and will feed on what is most available, such as squirrels, voles, mice, rabbits, and injured or sick deer.
Coyotes prefer to be as far from humans as possible, but as with other species, a loss of habitat has left them few choices. To prevent problems in your yard, you must eliminate two main attractants: food and shelter.
- Do not encourage coyotes by feeding them. The majority of cases of bold or aggressive coyotes occur when people feed wildlife.
- Keep pet food and water dishes inside.
- Do not allow spills to accumulate below bird feeders.
- Keep grills and barbecues clean. Even small food scraps may attract animals.
- If possible, do not keep garbage cans outside.
- Use enclosed compost bins, not exposed piles. Do not add pet waste, meat, milk or eggs.
- Keep ground clear of fruit from trees.
- Protect vegetable gardens with heavy-duty fences.
- Use welded wire to prevent animals from accessing openings under decks, elevated sheds, concrete slabs and porches.
- Use frightening devices, such as sirens, sensor lights, or motion-activated sprinkler systems or lights to discourage animals from approaching your house at night.
- Clear all bushes and dense weeds near the home, where coyotes may find cover and small animals to feed upon.
- Encourage neighbors to follow these steps to further prevent problems.
Like domestic dogs, coyotes test their limits around humans. Each encounter teaches a coyote something new, and without negative reinforcements, a coyote can develop aggressive habits. A coyote may start to regularly move through residential areas or around parks or schools; walk down streets or sidewalks; bask in yards or parks; decrease the distance between itself and humans or pets; or chase or attack pets during the day, even those on leashes or near their owners.
A coyote’s bold behaviors do not necessarily mean that it will become aggressive toward people, but a coyote that maintains its fear of humans will be less likely to cause problems in general. Still, some people are concerned that coyotes are a threat, but attacks on humans are rare. For perspective, it is worth noting that there has not been one documented case of a coyote biting a human in DuPage County whereas roughly 900 people are bitten by domestic dogs in DuPage each year.
- If you encounter a coyote, be confident and bold. Make loud noises, and make yourself look larger by raising your hands above your head or flaring your jacket wide open to let the coyote know you are “top dog.”
- Do not be submissive, turn your back or run.
- If you are uncomfortable, leave the area calmly, facing the coyote as you leave.
- If walking on trails frequented by coyotes, carry a deterrent, such as an air horn, whistle, walking stick or cane.
- Always keep yourself between a coyote and children or pets.
- If you are followed by a coyote, you are likely walking through its territory, and it is merely escorting or “shadowing” you to make sure you are not a threat.
- Although unlikely, if you encounter aggressive behavior, throw clods of earth or sticks near the ground by the coyote first and then, if necessary, toward its body, never at its head.
- Report aggressive behavior in a forest preserve to the Forest Preserve District at (630) 933-7200. Report encounters on private property to your local municipality.
- For more information on living with coyotes, visit http://web.extension.illinois.edu/wildlife/.
- For general information on coyotes, visit http://www.dupageforest.org/Conservation/NaturalResources/Mammals.html.
- Learn about how to live with urban coyotes. View the video, "Being Coyote Wise: Living With Urban Coyotes."
Coyotes and Pets
Survival for coyotes is difficult, and they are known to kill foxes to remove territorial competition. Individual coyotes may view domestic dogs in the same manner, especially small dogs that tend to be aggressive toward larger canines. Male coyotes may also be drawn to domestic dogs in heat, as well as male dogs to female coyotes.
- While encounters are rare, especially for larger dogs, and many are initiated by the dog and not the coyote, owners should always take a few simple precautions.
- Walk your dog on a leash.
- Never leave dogs unattended in your yard, and always keep them inside at night.
- Keep your yard well-illuminated when outdoors at night with your pet.
- Keep cats indoors.
- Coyotes can be creatures of habit. If you encounter one at the same place and time while walking your pet, change your route or the time that you walk.
- To keep coyotes out of your yard, install 6-foot-high wire-mesh fencing extended at least 6 inches underground. Install a “roller” system at the top so animals cannot pull themselves over.
Public Health Concerns
Coyotes are not considered to be a significant source of diseases that can be transmitted to humans. They may carry rabies, but there have not been any reports in DuPage County in recent years. They may also carry distemper, sarcoptic mange, heartworm and other canine diseases, but transmissions are uncommon; always keep pets’ vaccinations current.
What Not To Do
- Trapping and removing a coyote is not always the solution to the problem. Removing the animal is illegal without the proper permits and only creates an open space for another animal. A trapped adult may also leave young behind to die of starvation in an inaccessible area. Focus on removing the attraction, not the animal.
- Never move young from the den.
- Do not use poisons. They are inhumane and may be illegal. They can also result in secondary poisoning of raptors, wild scavengers and neighborhood pets.
- It is illegal to keep wild animals, even for a very short time. They have specialized nutritional, housing and handling needs that you are unlikely to be able to provide. Inexperienced individuals who attempt to raise or treat them inevitably produce unhealthy, tame animals that cannot survive in their natural habitats.
Willowbrook Wildlife Center
If you come across a wild animal and are concerned, leave it alone. Call Willowbrook Wildlife Center for advice at (630) 942-6200. The center is located at 525 S. Park Blvd. in Glen Ellyn and is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except select holidays. Recorded messages provide general information for callers when the center is closed.