July 2, 2007

Expert Offers Tips for Discouraging Brave Coyotes

Here's the first edition of a new feature called "Ask the Experts." The idea is for readers to send questions on a variety of topics, from outdoor sports like fishing and hunting to bikes, physical fitness, nature and more. I'll find experts who can answer them.

I received a number of e-mails after "Ask the Experts" was announced a few weeks ago. We'll get to them as weeks go by.

But one regarding nuisance coyotes stood out for reasons you'll soon understand. The expert I consulted is Darryl Coates, a well- known wildlife biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Here are excerpts from an e-mail sent by Carol Huff of rural Clinton:;

"I would like to see someone write about the problems we are having with coyotes in our neighborhood. Last night, one came right up near the door and attacked one of my dogs. This has been going on for about a month now, they are getting braver and braver. One even chased one of my dogs into the house and ran when I approached. It was actually in the house!

"They have been right in our neighbor's yard, also. This is with all the lights on outside, which is really scary. We are at a loss as what to do. We are elderly people and it is getting to be too much for us. This is out in the rural area near the old DeWitt County Nursing Home and granted it is out in the country, but these animals are getting bolder and bolder. I am afraid if a small child went outside after dark, they would be attacked. We don't know who to contact about this problem."

Coates describes coyotes as having pointed ears, slender muzzles and drooping bushy tails they tuck under their hindquarters as they run. Their coats are grayish-brown with a tinge of red behind the ears and around the face. A coyote's eyes are a striking yellow with large dark pupils, instead of brown, like most dogs. An adult coyote can weigh 25-35 pounds, but because of their long hair, they are often mistaken as being much larger.

You know they're around when you hear their howls, but most often they bark, whine and yip. A coyote print has two nail prints at the top of the paw and a larger heel impression. Coyote tracks will appear in a straight line whereas dogs shift directions constantly, he said.

"Coyotes are a fairly new introduction to the urban section, such as metropolitan areas as Bloomington-Normal, and even some suburban communities near large towns," Coates said. "Researchers in a Cook County study noted that coyotes deemed nuisances were those which became habituated through feeding by people ... intentionally or unintentionally.' The study goes on to say that once coyotes associated human buildings or yards with food, they increased daytime activities and thus were seen more easily by people.' Researchers in the Cook County study drew the conclusion that intentional feeding of coyotes is the factor most likely to lead to human attack."

"Human food making its way into the coyote diet is a recipe for human/wildlife conflict," Coates said.

What to do?- Don't feed coyotes. That includes leaving garbage cans out. But it also includes pet food and giving them easy pickings like squirrels around bird feeders. If coyotes are present in your area, do not let pets run loose, especially domestic cats. Cats and small dogs are at risk.- Do not run from a coyote. Make noise or throw things in its direction. - Repel them with motion lights or motion-activated sound devices. Fencing needs to be over four feet high.

w Report nuisance coyotes immediately to your Illinois Department of Natural Resource District wildlife biologist.

Landowners within a village, a city or town have options, too. - Obtain a nuisance wildlife permit from your district wildlife biologist that allows you to use a live trap. They are good because they spare your neighbor's cat. The biggest problem is the captured coyote must be killed and buried. Release is not viable, Coates said. Law requires most fur-bearing mammals to be taken at least 45 miles away so they don't find a way back. But, to free them, you need permission from the owner of the site, and who wants your troubles?

"State parks, county parks and public access areas are not dumping grounds for your nuisance wildlife," Coates added.- You can hire a licensed commercial trapper. DNR biologists has a list in your area.

Also, coyote hunting is becoming very popular in rural areas of Illinois. Ask your hunter friends if they know someone who does it. They should do it for free.

Got a question for Ask the Experts? E-mail me.