PROVIDENCE – Keenly intelligent, extraordinarily adaptable, and willing to eat almost any available food – whether natural, including small animals, birds, insects, and fruits; scavenged roadkill; or easily obtainable human-provided sources such as garbage, pet food, birdseed, and compost – Rhode Island's coyotes are on the move again.
Typically, adult male and female coyotes breed in late winter and the female gives birth to a litter of 4 to 8 pups in April. Consisting of the adult pair and the pups, this social unit will be maintained until the pups become yearlings and disperse on their own or get booted out by their parents. Noisy, hungry pups must be fed. That means adult coyotes will be seen and heard foraging and hunting for food in rural, suburban, and even urban Rhode Island neighborhoods over the next several months. As daylight hours increase, adult coyotes may spend more time actively foraging during daytime than they would at other times of the year. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) advises Rhode Islanders that the No. 1 key to minimizing interactions and conflicts with coyotes is reducing food sources available to them, either intentionally or unintentionally around our homes and neighborhoods. Coyotes that rely on natural food sources remain wild and wary of humans. Feeding coyotes – or any wild animal – however, makes them less fearful of people and they can become casual or even bold when encountering people.
"If you see coyotes that are bold and brazen, it's often directly related to intentional feeding or easy and reliably available food sources associated with human activities," said DEM wildlife biologist Charles Brown. "Intentionally feeding wild animals habituates them, causes them to lose their inherent fear of humans, and may lead to brazen behavior. It also leads to a whole series of problems, including frequenting areas close to homes and preying on domestic animals such as chickens, cats, and small dogs."
Coyotes play an important ecological role by controlling populations of rodents, resident geese, and in some cases white-tailed deer, Brown said. Shy and elusive by nature, most coyotes usually make every attempt to avoid interactions with people. Coyote attacks on people are very rare. On the other hand, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, over half of dog bite injuries occur at home with dogs that are familiar to us, and over 800,000 receive medical attention for dog bites, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
HOW TO CUT DOWN ON COYOTE CONFLICTS
Remove "attractants" from your yard. This means removing all food and water sources like pet food dishes and birdfeeders and keeping barbecue grills clean of grease. Don't put meat or sweet food scraps in your compost pile, and keep compost in secure, vented containers. Put your trash in containers with secure lids and store them in sheds and garages away from doors if possible. Put garbage for pickup outside on the morning of collection, not the night before. If you have fruit trees, pick up fallen fruit.
Cut back brushy edges and dense weeds from around your yard and structures like sheds. These areas provide cover for coyotes and their prey.
Chase coyotes off your property. Keep coyotes wild by "hazing" them, which means doing things to scare them or chase them away. "When you're loud and aggressive, you're speaking their language. They will understand you and they will leave," said Numi Mitchell, Ph.D., leader of the Narragansett Bay Coyote Study. "Don't ever let coyotes lounge around and get comfortable in your yard or in your neighborhood. Actually, chasing them away is a kindness to keep our wildlife wild." According to the website CoyoteSmarts.org (or here on Facebook), the following actions are effective hazing tactics:
o Be as big and loud as possible. Do not run or turn your back.
o Wave your arms, clap your hands, and shout in an authoritative voice.
o Make noise by banging pots and pans or using an air horn or whistle. The sounds also can alert the neighbors.
o Throw small stones, sticks, tennis balls, or anything else you can lay your hands on. Remember: the intent is to scare and not to injure.
o Shake or throw a "coyote shaker" – a soda can filled with nuts and bolts, pennies, or pebbles and sealed with duct tape.
Protecting pets. Keep pets, particularly cats, indoors. Coyotes don't distinguish between domestic and wild animals and are likely to view cats and small dogs as potential food and larger dogs as competition. For the safety of your pets, always keep them leashed when outdoors and feed them indoors. Outdoor feeding can attract many wild animals. Do not leave small dogs outside unattended, especially at night.
When confronted by a coyote. Stand up and look big. Wave your arms. Yell loudly. Don't lose your head. Keeping an assertive posture and making eye contact will convey a message of authority that coyotes will typically respect. Maintain eye contact. If the coyote does not retreat, walk slowly away toward the house. Do not turn your back on the animal.
Report aggressive behavior. Coyotes that exhibit bold or aggressive behavior towards humans should be treated with caution and reported to authorities. Also, animals that appear or act aggressively or are noticeably sick should be reported to the DEM Division of Law Enforcement (222-3070) or to your local animal control officer. Also, any contact between a coyote and a dog or other domestic animal should be immediately reported to your veterinarian and animal control officer.
Never feed coyotes. Feeding coyotes or other wild animals causes behavioral changes that will almost certainly cause unintended problems for neighbors and the animals that were meant to benefit. Report neighbors that are feeding coyotes to the DEM Division of Law Enforcement (222-3070) or to your local animal control officer.
Adult female coyotes typically weigh 33-40 pounds, while males typically weigh 34-47 pounds. They often look heavier because of their thick fur. The first appearance of coyotes in Rhode Island occurred in the mid-1960s, part of a range expansion into the eastern United States that began at the end of the 19th century. Coyotes can currently be found in all Rhode Island communities except New Shoreham. They may hunt and travel alone or sometimes will travel as a group, usually an adult pair with their offspring from the most recent litter. In our area, coyotes are mostly nocturnal, mainly to avoid interactions with people. The remain active year-round and do not hibernate. Coyote pairs are territorial and will exclude other coyotes from their established territory.
"Coyotes are now well established as part of our native fauna and unless you live on Block Island, you can expect that coyotes occur in your town or neighborhood and at some point, you may actually see one in your yard, on the bike path, or crossing a farm field," said DEM wildlife biologist Charles Brown. "Not all coyotes exhibit bad traits and those that do have likely been encouraged or conditioned to behave that way because of human behavior."
For more information on coyotes, click here and visit CoyoteSmarts' recently launched Facebook page. Follow DEM on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RhodeIslandDEM or on Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM) for timely updates.