By Ellen Simmons
Anyone with questions about coyotes might want to contact Jamey Emmert, who is a wildlife communications specialist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Emmert presented a public program about coyotes at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife’s Lake Erie Unit in Sandusky.
She started by saying there is, "a lot of misinformation about coyotes" and then asked audience members why they attended the program. The responses included questions such as where did they come from, why are they here, are they a danger to small pets and grandchildren and how to tell the difference between a coyote and a dog or wolf.
She said coyotes are smaller than wolves and adults weight around 30-35 pounds. They may look larger than this but it is because of their full coats that often make them appear larger.
Their ears are pointed with white on the inside and they often have reddish brown legs. Although their bodies can be almost any color they are often a salt/pepper mixture that appears gray overall. They have bushy tails that hang low.
Their walk is quite distinctive-very straight-and they like to trot, appearing to know exactly where they are going and not wanting to waste any time getting there. A clip on Youtube called "Coyote Walk on by," shows the unique walk that wastes no motion.
Their tracks are around 2 1/2 to 3 inches in size and are oval, rather than round. She invited anyone with questions about a track to photograph it and send it to her for identification.
Emmert said coyotes are omnivores, which she said means, "If you can name it, they will probably consume it." They eat small rodents, birds, seeds, eggs, fruit and vegetation, among other things. They scavenge on deer, such as those killed in the road and may take down fawns and old or sick animals. She said they rarely prey on healthy, full-grown deer because they do not hunt in packs, and a deer is a formidable foe to a smaller animal.
As to where coyotes came from, she said the animals historically habituated the southwest desert areas, but they started moving northeast in the early 1900s. No one knows exactly why this happened, but because the animals are so adaptable, they are now ubiquitous in this part of the country.
Coyotes mate for life unless one of the pair dies and if that happens, the one left will find another mate. The breeding season is January through March, and the gestation period is 63 days. Litters, which usually contain between 4-7 pups are born in April and May.
Emmert added an interesting fact about the animals. The number of pups in the litter will depend upon the food availability and density of the surrounding coyote population. The animals are somehow biologically able to control their population by only producing the number of babies the food supply will support. This is just one of their traits that helps make them so adaptable. Emmert said, "Coyotes are here to stay."
The female selects, prepares and makes the den, which can be almost anywhere. She may share this with another female, perhaps one of her daughters or a sister. The male provides the food until after the pups are born, when both parents share the chore. The pups start leaving the den at three weeks, and at eight weeks they start to develop hunting skills. The family stays together until mid-fall, when the pups break away and move 10 to 100 miles away.
To illustrate how smart coyotes are, Emmert said there are films showing them looking both ways and waiting until the way is clear to cross busy highways. That explains how relatively few of them are seen dead along roads.
One of the big questions at the program was what to do if a coyote starts hanging around people. She said they will be attracted by a food source such as garbage, bird seed on the ground, pet food left out at night, grease from a grill and small animals, including cats and small dogs.
So, the first step is to minimize attractors such as these. Coyotes are curious but generally fearful of humans, and the best thing to do if one appears is to make a lot of noise by clapping hands or banging pots and pans together.
If these techniques are unsuccessful, Emmert suggested contacting a nuisance trapper through the Division of Wildlife at 1-800-WILDLIFE (945-3545). She added coyotes in rural areas can be controlled through legal hunting and trapping methods. Consult the annual "Ohio Hunting & Trapping Regulations" and go to www.wildohio.com for more information.
Emmert concluded by saying although there is no closed season or bag limit on coyotes, the Division of Wildlife suggests instead of killing the animals, "focus on a specific coyote causing a specific problem." Emmert can be contacted at 1-330-245-3020 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(For anyone interested in more information about coyotes, read "The Daily Coyote" a book by Shreve Stockton, a woman in Wyoming who raised a coyote from a 10-day-old pup.)