We can learn to coexist with coyotes, says wildlife ecologist

By Jane Charmelo

Lombardian-Villa Park Review Staff Reporter

It seems residents in Lombard have been mentioning coyotes more often lately-through Facebook, conversations, comparing sightings-with this columnist being no exception.
However, according to Forest Preserve District of DuPage County (FPDDC) wildlife ecologist Brian Kraskiewisz, that’s not because people are seeing more of them.
He explained how there are misconceptions about coyotes, saying, “First thing is, there’s probably not more coyotes” other than new generations being born that replace or add to a previous one.
They’ve been around for a long time, he continued, saying that the animals are likely becoming less shy and bolder, and in the colder months may seem more visible as the vegetation reduces their ability to hide.
“Coyotes start to stand out more so,” Kraskiewisz said.
And, it may seem like there are more coyotes as the young are being “kicked out” to go live on their own around 6 to 9 months of age-except, he added, young females that may stay behind to help bring up the next litter of pups.
“They do kind of have a family group,” the ecologist related.
“Coyotes form strong family groups,” according to information on the National Geographic website, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/c/coyote. “In spring, females den and give birth to litters of three to 12 pups. Both parents feed and protect their young and their territory. The pups are able to hunt on their own by the following fall.”
“They were here and we took their land,” Kraskiewisz said. “We just interrupted them. That’s the truth.”
“There’s a lot more development than there was 50 years ago,” he continued.
In fact, according to the University of Illinois Extension, “Coyotes took over the role of largest predator in Illinois after wolves and mountain lions were extirpated (removed) from the state during the 1860s.”
The extension also states: “Coyotes are valuable members of the wildlife community. They help keep populations of small mammals and rabbits under control. As Illinois’ largest remaining predator they are an integral part of healthy ecosystem functioning.”
There are people who may not see it that way-likely because they have pets to worry about. However, Kraskiewisz said that it’s up to humans to be “more proactive than reactive” when it comes to keeping coyotes away-and taking responsibility for not doing anything to attract them.
First and foremost, he advised, do not make your yard attractive by leaving food scraps (think compost) or garbage easily accessible, and clean up debris on the ground from bird feeders.
Kraskiewisz said the debris attracts such animals as squirrels, rodents and other small creatures, which then attract coyotes.
“If you don’t have the little guys, you don’t get the big guys,” he quipped, adding that this tactic also includes not leaving out pet food for dogs or cats-or the dogs and cats themselves. If you can’t get rid of the rodents once you have them, you can call one of the many pest control companies out there, to come and help you.
This will also help prevent coyotes from finding porches, decks, sheds and other dwellings attractive for spending the night or hiding out.
As for dogs, the ecologist said that for the most part, coyotes see them as competition, “much like wolves do with coyotes.”
“It’s a territorial thing,” he said, noting that coyotes typically attack dogs “to lessen the competition.”
“They have a territory, obviously,” Kraskiewisz related, but at the same time, “They move around a lot.”
To protect dogs, “you need to be outside with your pet,” he emphasized. Opening the door and assessing the environment is a good idea before taking the dog out-even in a fenced in yard; and using a leash is a must.
It is the owner’s responsibility “not to leave them alone,” Kraskiewisz continued, saying that doing so is one of the mistakes pet owners make.
When it comes to people, coyotes are “not a public health threat to humans,” he said, but at the same time, the animals “realize humans are not a threat.”
“A bold coyote does not necessarily mean an aggressive coyote, but a coyote that maintains its fear of humans will be less likely to cause problems,” the FPDDC website states.
Coyotes, the ecologist said, are “more used to people,” so one way to ward them off is to “make some noise, try to make them afraid of humans.”
“Coyotes are not a public health concern. Domestic dogs bite nearly 900 people in DuPage County each year, but the county does not have one documented case of a coyote biting a human. In other parts of the country, most cases occurred after people were feeding the animals,” according to the FPDDC website.
“In Illinois, coyotes are protected as a furbearer,” according to the U of I Extension. “Coyotes in urban areas that become problems may be removed if a nuisance wildlife permit is issued by an Illinois Department of Natural Resources District Wildlife Biologist.”
“It’s illegal to intentionally harm them,” Kraskiewisz said, so following the guidelines to prevent an attack is tantamount to “trying to prevent that situation.”
The bottom line for the ecologist is that people can minimize unwanted visitors in their yard by keeping food sources away, watching over pets and making noise should a coyote get too close.
They are not going away anytime soon, Kraskiewisz believes, so it’s a matter of live and let live.
“They are definitely adapting to life in suburbia,” he concluded.
For a list of ways to live with coyotes, the FPDDC has on its website more detailed, comprehensive steps you can take to avoid the uninvited Canis latrans.
Visit http://www.dupageforest.org/plants-wildlife/wildlife/living-with-wildlife/coyotes for details.

 

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