Coyotes, song dogs, yotes — whatever the name given, these members of the canine family may live closer to you than you might think. Conservation officers, wildlife biologists and this writer have fielded questions of “What can we do about the coyotes?”
The answer may be varied, depending on individual circumstances, but generally boils down to: “Know the animal and consider your options.”
The coyote (Canis latrans) is comparable in size to a mid-sized dog. Its color is described as reddish gray or gray with reddish legs, feet and ears. However, the general color of the animal can vary from a very light coat — almost white — to a near black appearance. From the nose to the end of the tail, its length may be anywhere from 4 feet to nearly 5 1/2 feet.
Coyotes have been a part of the wildlife scene since the advent of the bison and wolf. Quite likely, Indiana has never had a zero population of coyotes, although the mid 1900s may have seen only scattered populations. Today, coyotes, like the white tailed deer, are adapting to the human population faster that we to them.
Most folks living in rural areas are familiar with the oft heard evening chorus of howling coyotes as they converse with others of their family or group. This may be a mating chorus or a prelude to a hunt. Although coyotes seem to
prefer hunting alone or in pairs rather than packs of more that three animals.
The coyote is an opportunistic feeder. It will eat almost anything available — from small mammals and birds to carrion of fruit.
Cats and small dogs may fall prey to a hunting coyote if these animals are allowed to roam freely at night. Garbage not secured in a lidded container may be a part of the coyotes evening meal. Coyotes, which are nocturnal hunters, are seldom seen during the full daylight hours unless disturbed from their daytime slumber.
Now, all this said, “How do I control and deal with the coyote population around my property or on my farm?” Let’s consider food sources and their availability to a night-time hunting coyote.
People often mention feeding the barn cats or the feral (domestic but wild) cats, which live outside 24 hours a day. If the food provided is not entirely eaten by these animals, then there is a food source of the scavenging coyote. This can be a definite problem when the food is placed in the evening and in an area easily accessed by the coyote.
While the coyote may take the cat, the left-over food is easier to obtain. If these leftovers are a night after night occurence, then the coyote makes a nightly visit . And probably sooner rather than late, the cat also becomes a part of the meal.
If cats or dogs are to be fed outside, provide the food earlier in the day. Don’t provide more food than can be eaten during daylight hours. Especially for cats, place the food at a high level — 5 or 6 feet from ground level, since cats can climb and coyotes may not attempt to jump for the food.
Above all, do not purposely provide food for the coyote. The animal can easily fend for itself and that food source becomes more of a problem when the supply ends. Pets and food inside a fence of fivefoot high or higher are less likely to become food for coyotes.
Repellents may deter the coyote, however the need for replacement of such an item may become an added expense on the household budget. A yard light or motion sensitive light may keep the unwanted animal outside of the light’s range.
While attacks on humans by coyotes seldom occur, a person walking with a dog may encounter a coyote with an aggressive and fearless attitude. This same coyote may show the same aggressive attitude to a small child, perhaps under the age of 4 or 5. Any coyote showing these tendencies should be reported to authorities in order that it be dealt with promptly.
Coyotes in Indiana are considered game animals and there is a season for hunting and trapping. At present, this season is Oct. 15 to Jan. 31. It is legal to hunt coyotes at night using mouth calls, hand-operated calls or recorded calls. The coyote may be taken with any legal weapon.
The animal may be taken with any legal trap. If taken alive, the coyote must be killed within 24 hours. Any coyote trapper will agree that trapping coyotes is not a simple procedure. The trapper must take definite measures to make certain the coyote does not detect the presence of the trap or the trapper.
Landowners with problem coyotes on their property can take or kill that animal outside of the set season. The landowner may provide written permission for others to take coyotes on their property outside of the established hunting or trapping season. As coyotes become a problem within city or town limits or within an area of home development, hunting and trapping become an added problem. Again, deprive them of a ready food source and the animals may go elsewhere for an easy meal.
One item referring to feral cats — regardless of how well fed — a study in California showed as the feral cat population decreased because of coyote depredation, the number of nesting songbirds increased. No matter how well fed that stray cat, the hunting instinct is alive and well and birds, rabbits, etc., will pay the price for it’s existence.
Don Bickel is a retired forester. His column appears on Tuesdays. He may be contacted at email@example.com