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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Last week, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued guidance on preventing conflicts with coyotes. I thought it was a highly unusual move because they hadn’t done that before.

It could be chalked up to a few things such as the increased population of coyotes in suburban and urban environments, the canines’ decreasing fear of human activity, and the growing number of coyote attacks (mostly in Canada). As a higher-level predator and Man begin to share the same habitats, I suppose there is always need for some caution, maybe even concern.

The DEC said in its press release that conflicts with people and pets can occur as coyotes tend to be territorial around den sites during the spring through mid-summer as they forage almost constantly to provide food for their young. Officials offered a variety of tips on how to prevent attacks on people and pets.

Purposeful and unintentional feeding 

The DEC said property owners should not feed coyotes and should discourage others from doing so. They also made note that unintentional food sources attract coyotes and increase risk to people and pets. To reduce risks they said do not feed pets outside; make any garbage inaccessible to coyotes; fence or enclose compost piles so they are not accessible to coyotes; and eliminate availability of bird seed (concentrations of birds and rodents that come to feeders can attract coyotes).

The DEC is warning about potential encounters with coyotes and how they 
All of the above certainly makes sense, not only for keeping coyotes out of your yard, but other pesky animals as well, such as opossums and raccoons and — who knows — maybe even a wandering bear.

Coyotes are pretty fearless when it comes to what were traditionally the confines of Man. If you can catch the 2014 episode of Nature about the Eastern coyote being rerun on PBS or watch it online you’ll be amazed at the overnight footage filmed with night vision in residential areas of Toronto. Stealthy and otherwise undetected, the animals would eat out of dog and cat dishes on front steps and sniff around garbage cans and bags. It’s wild stuff.

That’s happening not only in the Big City but also out here in the rural landscape where those wild dogs are much more abundant. If I have a dusting of snow at home it shows that coyotes of various sizes traverse my lawn most every night. This past winter, as brutal as it was, forced coyotes in many places to change their habits: One of my coyote neighbors seemed to avoid the deep snow entirely and walked the roads and local driveways at night, likely hoping to catch rabbits that were at bird feeders in the dark.

Do not approach coyotes

The DEC also said that you should not allow coyotes to approach people or pets, while teaching children to appreciate coyotes from a distance. They also said that if you see a coyote, be aggressive in your behavior - stand tall, and hold arms out to look large. If a coyote lingers for too long, then make loud noises, wave your arms, throw sticks and stones.

Once again, those are common sense approaches to avoidance of conflict.

It is critical that you spend some time online or with a good field guide familiarizing your family and yourself with what a coyote looks like. You need to learn the difference between them and a “police dog” or German shepherd. But, don’t fall into the trap of thinking larger canines are not coyotes – many websites will say that coyotes top out at 45 pounds. They do out West or when they are purebred coyotes. But, the coyotes here have wolf genes and, therefore, can be large, anywhere from 50 pounds to 80 pounds.

I can attest to the DEC’s statements that movement and aggressiveness can keep coyotes at bay, especially in close quarters. A few years ago I was turkey hunting in Allegany County when a coyote zeroed in on my calling and thought I was a hen. The coyote quickly and quietly appeared of nowhere, navigating the series of rises on the ridge behind me. I didn’t see or hear him until he was less than 10 feet away, coming in from my blindside to get what he thought was an easy meal. He moved fast and was just feet away by time I could react. I raised my arm to protect my neck and face and that was more than enough to deter him as he immediately bolted upon figuring out I was a human.

But, being a loud, large and angry human doesn’t always work (although it does most of the time), and I’m surprised the DEC didn’t touch on the fact, even briefly, that coyotes can have rabies, both from being a social animal and from feeding on common carriers of rabies.

Just ponder what happened in North Tonawanda a few years back. A fearless coyote was seen a few times in the city. One morning, when I arrived at work, the coyote was in our driveway and couldn’t care less about my truck being alongside him. I purposely parked next to him and he never ran off. Two days and a few blocks later, the coyote bit a man who went to pet him thinking it was a small shepherd (it was the third coyote bite in that city in 3 weeks). When police finally caught up with the coyote, the sickened dog came up to the officer’s cruiser and even attempted to climb it before being shot. Of course, the predator tested positive for rabies.

Do not allow pets to run free 

The DEC said it’s critical to supervise all pets, especially outdoor pets, to keep them safe from coyotes and other wildlife, especially at sunset and at night.

This fox was killed by coyotes. Don’t let your small dog end up this way.
They say small cats are especially vulnerable to coyotes. That is something I know too well. In high school one of our favorite cats was out at night when a coyote killed her, only for the sake of killing her.

The coyote didn’t eat the cat, it only eliminated a threat. Coyotes don’t want to co-exist with other carnivores that might be pursuing some of their favorite foods like mice.

The DEC also says that owners of small dogs should have cause for concern. They say that small dogs are at greatest risk of being harmed or killed when coyotes are being territorial during denning and pup-rearing. I disagree and say they are at risk all year, for the same reason the coyote killed the cat – coyotes don’t like competition.

I saw the outcome of this in the natural world this past winter. Coyotes had brought down a deer on our farm. A few days later there was a dead red fox lying just 60 yards away from what remained of the deer. It had a few puncture wounds from teeth in it, coyotes being the culprit. We took the fox to a coworker so he could produce a pelt and he said when he skinned it, the skeleton virtually fell apart because the coyotes were strong enough to snap the fox’s back and multiple ribs.

If you don’t want your pup to end up like that, the DEC says small dogs should not be left unattended in backyards at night and should remain supervised.

Coyotes may approach small dogs along streets at night near natural areas, even in the presence of dog owners. Officials also tell you to be alert of your surroundings and take precautions such as carrying a flashlight or a walking stick to deter coyotes. They also say that owners of large and medium sized dogs have less to worry about, but should still take precautions.

There’s a lot to digest here and it’s certainly worthwhile to ponder as local coyotes become more numerous and more brazen. Some people think that coyotes are moving into our domains, but one could argue that it was theirs to begin with. So, we need to understand these canine neighbors and approach these animals with respect – and a little common sense.

+Bob Confer  lives in rural Gasport where he is routinely serenaded by coyotes. Following him on Twitter @bobconfer or email him at

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