A recent Boston Globe article described two separate occasions where young girls in Arlington were attacked while playing outside near their homes, most likely by the same coyote. The coyote appeared to be healthy with no obvious signs of rabies. Why did it attack the kids and what does it mean for Bedford kids or adults? What can we do if we have an encounter?
Although we can only speculate about the coyote’s motivation, it appears that this coyote has become habituated, i.e. it has become much too comfortable around people. How does this happen and what can you do?
Editor’s Note: The following article about coyotes, written by Gene Kalb, appeared in January 2020:
Coyotes are a hot topic, both on Facebook and in conversations with my fellow dog walkers. I thought it might be a good time to do a little digging and try to dispel some myths and hopefully help with some useful information. It’s human nature to fear what we don’t understand, and from what I read on Facebook, we do not understand Coyotes.
I have been reading about Eastern Coyotes for a while, and think I have a good top-level understanding, but I am in no way an expert. That is why I called the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries & Wildlife (MassWildlife) where I was put in touch with Marion Larson, the Chief of Information and Education.
Coyote or Coywolf?
First of all, is it a Coyote that we’re seeing or a hybrid? Many are saying that what we’re seeing around here is not a Coyote but rather a Coywolf ( A Coyote and Wolf combination). I asked Marion about this and she quickly dispelled that. Coywolves are NOT found in Massachusetts; there is such an animal found in northern Michigan, but what we have here is the Eastern Coyote. (Interestingly they do find some domestic dog DNA in the coyotes around here.) They are bigger than their western brethren due to various factors. They also appear bigger because of their winter coat. There is not as much coyote under the fur as you may think. Marion said a typical “big” coyote is only about 25 – 40lbs at most. They look much bigger due to their thick fur.
There seems to be an uptick in coyote sightings lately. I asked Marion about this and she told me about the life cycle of an eastern coyote and why they are more prominent at certain times of the year.
January and February is mating season for coyotes; they are out looking for mates and in the process, they become much more visible and vocal (also with the leaves off the trees all wildlife, in general, is easier to spot). They also may appear more curious about dogs. They may view your dog as a potential mate or even a competitor. That would explain the dog DNA too.
Later on in the spring when the pups are born, coyotes become protective of their den and their pups. You may see a coyote trying to lead you away from a den, or if feeling threatened may actively defend her pups. This happened last year in Concord when there was a coyote den near a popular dog-walking path. If you see a coyote in the spring in the same area several times, it’s a safe bet that a den is nearby. Just give a wide berth to that area for a bit.
Later in the summer, the young pups are learning to hunt. Being young, they’re curious so it’s not surprising to see some of the younger ones out. Late in the fall, before mating season, the parents give the young ones the boot and this is another time when you may spot them more often.
Coyote/Human encounters—What you can do
Now that you know when you’re most likely to see them, what do you do when you actually see them? One of the real problems we have is how we react to coyotes. This, I admit, is easier to write than to do, but don’t be scared!
When they see a coyote most people usually quickly go inside or at the very least turn around.
Think of this from the coyote’s point of view: People are scared of me and leave — no problem. It’s really best for everyone’s sake, coyotes included, to make it the coyote’s problem.
If we teach them to be, at the very least, leery of us, all will benefit. If you see a coyote, walk toward it, throw a stick, make noise, give it the impression that it should go somewhere else. This doesn’t hurt them but suggests in “coyote language” that humans are to be feared.
Are you inviting coyotes to your house?
We often invite (unwittingly) coyotes to live among us. Food is a major appeal. Coyotes are omnivorous, consuming both vegetation and meat. They hunt for small mammals and birds, and will also prey on deer fawns in the early weeks after their birth. Coyotes also eat eggs, insects, fruits, and seeds.
Humans provide coyotes food through pet food, birdseed, suet, vegetable gardens, and unsecured garbage. These are all great sources of meals for coyotes (and other wildlife) and if replenished keeps them coming back. Letting your small pets out unsupervised is an open invitation for trouble.
Think about it for a minute, coyotes hunt small mammals which in their eyes includes small dogs and cats. You may view your pets as members of your family, but from a coyote’s point of view, they’re an easy meal.
Please keep your cats indoors, and when you let your dogs out, go with them, especially at night. Turn the lights on, put on your coat, and go outside with them. Coyotes are good at learning your schedule, so try to mix it up a bit.
Also, this should be obvious, the invisible dog fences may keep your dog in the yard, but they will not keep coyotes out. Fences, in general, will slow up a coyote, but if there is something they want, they can jump a six-foot barrier. So even in a fenced-in yard, go out with pets.
One other thing to remember is that coyotes are not evil geniuses, they are not plotting to get you and your pets with elaborate plans. One story I heard was that coyotes would lure your dog into an ambush. I asked Marion about this and she said it was unlikely. Coyotes are smart and they are opportunistic hunters. The best way to keep your pets safe is to keep them under close supervision or on a leash.
Coyotes are here, they are a vital part of the ecosystem, so let’s learn how to coexist.
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