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Close encounters with coyotes in Alabama are on the rise | Environment

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Close encounters with coyotes in Alabama are on the rise
Submitted by Marianne Hudson, Naturalist & Wildlife Educator
Tuesday, February 8th, 2011, 12:18pm
Environment, Pets, Urban Wildlife
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If you see a coyote on or near your property or in a location where you have never seen one before – don’t be surprised! Such a sighting does not require reporting and should not be cause for concern or panic. In fact, coyotes are found all over Alabama – including in urban areas - and frequent neighborhoods more often than you may realize. Just as humans tend to congregate, settle and reproduce in areas where our needs for resources are met, coyotes can become abundant in areas where they find their survival requirements satisfied.

Since the coyote’s insulating coat protects it from the harshest of Alabama winters, food procurement is its primary hardship. Our state’s coyotes usually have little problem gleaning provisions from the healthy populations of its prey items. Its diet is exceptionally varied and includes furred items such as rats, mice and voles in addition to larger mammals such as rabbits and fawns. Birds, reptiles and amphibians along with their eggs accompany an assortment of fruits and other plant matter on this canine’s menu. Coyotes will eat just about anything – including garbage and any type of foodstuff found near our homes. If you can picture a neighborhood dog eating it, then a coyote will too. They will become used to finding fare near human habitation and become less wary than may be expected. They are intelligent problem-solvers with refined senses and their encounters with Alabama residents seem to be on the rise. 

Although you should not be alarmed by the presence of coyotes in your vicinity, at times you may want to discourage their bold behaviors and continued close proximity. First and foremost, remember that coyotes regularly prowl your area under the cover of darkness and have been doing so since before you became aware of them. Seeing one means simply that – you saw one – it does not necessarily indicate that they are becoming a problem or a danger to your property. Coyotes often move and hunt during the day,  particularly when they are caring for pups, have need for extra rations due to weather extremes, or were simply spooked from their resting spot. Living close to humans often means more food opportunities for the coyote: chipmunks in our woodpiles, rats near our dumpsters, compost in our gardens and dog food on our porches are all enticing for this opportunistic eater. The fact that our living habits often lead to an increase in what the coyotes view as food means there will be times when we cross paths. On occasion, coyotes have also been known to prey on domestic pets and small livestock. To put a damper on their plans for your possessions, keep pet food and trashcans secure and do not dump grease from your grill in the yard. If you have a trustworthy large-breed dog, consider keeping him in the pen with your goats and chickens at night. Of course, these precautions are not very effective if your neighbors do not practice the same habits: your backyard may become a throughway for them to travel from their denning areas to an easy meal. Alabama’s game laws provide ample opportunities to reduce coyote numbers through hunting. There is no bag limit and no closed season, but coyotes may be legally harvested during daylight hours only. In the rare case that coyotes become a serious problem to property, a landowner may apply for a permit to hunt them at night through the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Although coyotes are sometimes feared and despised, more often they are simply misunderstood. Coyotes are a natural part of Alabama’s wildlife diversity and the success of their species is testament to the success of their prey items: coyote numbers would not be able to increase without stable support from their food sources. If the presence of coyotes becomes an issue for you, first be sure to decrease their chances of finding food on your property by following the above suggestions. When dealing with managing coyotes on large tracts of land consider adding trapping as well as gun hunting to your harvest methods. Although it is easy to envision a group of coyotes decimating your other game species, in truth their numbers are merely a result of the bounty of their prey. Coyotes – like all animals - are completely dependent on their food sources and their hunting prowess is well matched by the evasive skill of their prey. Small game animals such as rabbits and large game animals such as deer are also reproductively designed to withstand the pressures of these and other predators. Even though the range of the coyote has expanded over the past several decades, the species fits well into the daily rhythm of Alabama’s food webs. To some, the damage they sometimes cause is tempered by the interest in nature that can be sparked by seeing the mysterious and striking coyote.

Environment, Pets, Urban Wildlife

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