Have you seen coyotes around? Do you know what they look like? Do you know why they are here? Do you know what to do if you see one? Let us help you learn about them.
Coyotes are beautiful animals. No really they are. Their upper body is typically a light gray to dull yellow, but can vary from mostly black to nearly all gray or white. It’s course outer hairs are usually tipped with black. The underparts are whitish, cream colored or pinkish yellow.
The average length of an adult is 44 to 54 inches, which includes a 15- to 17-inch tail. Weights measured during fall and winter vary from 22 to 42 pounds depending on their age, environment, food supply, etc. They stand usually between 21 to 30. In simpler terms, they are smaller and weigh less than a Golden Retriever but they are a little bigger than a fox.
Coyotes are a reality we all need to live and coexist with. Every size of city, from Chicago to Indian Creek, has coyotes around. Urban sprawl forces all wildlife to relocate or die. Every new subdivision means displacement of wildlife. Where do they go? Where the food and shelter are, many times in neighborhoods.
You’ll see coyotes more often at night than in the day. You’ll see them more in January and February because that is their mating season. Pregnant females need more body fat, especially in the cold temperatures. This means the males will need to go to the store and bring back food for two. Gestation time is around 60 days, so around late March to mid May, both sexes will be out looking for food for their pups. You won’t likely see their den because they know how to hide it very well.
The coyote is an extremely adaptable animal and will learn to find food in any situation. That includes venturing into cities and neighborhoods to find food sources. Coyotes are excellent predators for those nuisance animals we don’t like (i.e. raccoons, mice, and snakes). They assist a natural balance other wild animals (i.e. squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and birds) keeping their numbers down. Additionally, coyotes eat fruit, grass and occasionally insects. They love getting into our garbage cans for scraps of food.
These things don’t make the newspapers. It's when a coyote goes after a small dog or cat that get the headlines popping. These attacks are extremely rare. It’s not the fault of the coyote. It’s an animal being an animal and looking after its hierarchy of needs (food, water, and shelter). It’s not the fault of the pet. It has the food water and shelter already. It’s working on the next level of the hierarchy (security of itself, protection of its land and and protection of you the owner). It’s not even the fault of the owner. It is how nature works, plain and simple.
As the pet owner you can do things to protect your pets, but we’ll talk about that in a little bit. First let’s talk about you being a resident of planet Earth. You protect your house against pests, correct? All you have in your yard are the critters you like (i.e. squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits and birds). Does that list sound familiar? These cute animals are the food of coyotes. When we feed the cute animals, we bring them into our yards. We give them easy access to food, so they move their dens nearer to the shopping market. What follows them are the larger predators (raccoons, skunks and yes, coyotes). Just as the cute animals move to where the food is, the predators do the same. To coyotes, a Shih Tzu looks a lot like a rabbit. Next follows the headlines in the newspaper.
Even though it sounds cruel, if we stop feeding the cute animals the predators will move on as well. Nature finds a balance to all living things. The cute animals will survive elsewhere, so will the predators. They will just survive in a new and better environment. Keeping the cute animals around is like leaving your dog outside within an electric fenced in yard. Your dog cannot escape, but the coyote has nothing stopping it from coming in. Essentially you are confining their prey (wild or domesticated) into one small supermarket.
A responsible pet owner needs to keep their head about them and use precautions to protect themselves and pets. Don’t let your dogs and cats run free. Not only is it against Village law, it is putting them at risk. Don’t rely on an electric fence or even a short decorative fence because they will jump it. Don’t leave food out for wild animals. Keep your garbage contained in cans that cannot be knocked over. Clean up your barbecue area. Don’t leave your dog or cat dishes outside. If you must feed birds, keep the feeding areas clean of debris, even well maintained feeders can attract rodents, raccoons and skunks. In turn, this can attract coyotes. Use squirrel-proof bird feeders. When squirrels visit bird feeders, they become easy prey for coyotes.
If you see a coyote in your backyard, don’t panic. This isn’t a zombie, it’s just a conscious living creature. But don’t let your pet out either. Turn on all the lights that you can. Make loud noises like banging pots & pans or clapping 2 shoes together. Yell at them to get out. Throw something at it. Let them know who’s the boss here. They may growl and bare their teeth at you, but they are more scared than you are. Don’t approach them. Don’t corner them. Just shout them away. Teach your kids all these things as well.
According to the Cook County Urban Research Project - There has not been a single coyote bite or attack reported on humans in northeastern Illinois. Domestic dog bites are far more common than bites by wild animals.
Eliminating coyote packs is impossible, impractical and environmentally reckless of us. Impossible because other packs of coyotes will just move in and take over. Impractical because of the resources it would take to hunt them, kill them and destroy their land (remember, animals have rights to land as well as people). Environmentally reckless because coyotes kill nuisance animals and keep the numbers of the other animals in check so that they don’t starve to death.
To minimize potential problems with coyotes, residents should:
- Securely store garbage.
- Keep birds feeding areas clean of debris, even well maintained feeders can attract rodents. In turn, this may attract coyotes.
- Use squirrel-proof bird feeders. In an urban environment coyotes naturally feed on mice, voles, rabbits, and woodchucks. When natural prey populations decline, it has been shown that squirrels that visit bird feeders become easy prey for coyotes.
- Feed pets indoors.
- Do not leave small pets like rabbits, cats, or small dogs outside unattended, especially at night.
The Village of Vernon Hills does not trap coyotes. The Police Department will respond to concerns about coyotes, but residents must realize there is little that can be done about them. They are a fixture of nature and are very beneficial to the ecosystem. Recognize that seeing one cross your backyard does not necessarily constitute a problem.
Vernon Hills residents with concerns or questions that require an immediate police response should call 911. Otherwise, you can also call 847-362-4449 and press 0 to be connected to a telecommunicator.
For more information visit https://urbancoyoteresearch.com/