In the ecotone—a transition area between two habitats—that is the entire region where I live (Southeastern PA), where nature butts up against suburbia, we can expect to have more engagements with wildlife than our city cousins.
Some encounters may be welcome, like watching a cottontail rabbit romping past or a bald eagle ascend overhead, while others may feel more intimidating, like an evening run-in with our largest local predator, the Eastern Coyote.
Eastern Coyotes stay together as families; with a monogamous pair and their offspring hunting and living together in a single territory. Occasionally, coyotes in other territories will help other groups hunt for food during April-late May when litters of 4-6 are born and there are more mouths to feed. Once the pups are a few months old, the coyotes move to a new den. When the pups are 6-8 months old, they may leave their family unit in search of a new territory or stick around to help raise their new, younger siblings for a short time.
Many believe that the coyote population here is on the rise as there may be more human-coyote encounters, this may not actually be the case. As the human population increases and land development continues and people are out and about more, coyotes that were once hidden become visible, or audible!
As a primarily nocturnal animal, we may not see a coyote, however many may hear them! During a hunt, coyotes display remarkable communication skills that range from yips to howls. Since coyotes hunt solitarily or as a group, communication and teamwork between the family is key. The calls instruct and direct family members during a hunt, or call individuals back for the night. In areas where territory lines are close, coyotes will also bark to warn away potential trespassers.
At first glance, a coyote may seem fierce in its role as a predator, but we can take steps to help us live harmoniously with them rather than in fear of them. For starters, coyotes play an active role in wildlife management. While they can’t fully manage the white-tail deer population in southeastern Pennsylvania, for example, without them human-deer conflicts in the region, already plentiful, would only be exacerbated.
Coyotes would much rather slink away from us than risk a confrontation. If you are being followed by a coyote and feel uneasy, let it know who is dominant. By standing tall, making a lot of noise, you can communicate that you are not, in fact, potential prey. According to the Humane Society, you are more likely to be injured by an errant flying champagne cork than by a coyote. Unfortunately, to these predators, small dogs, cats, and farm animals such as sheep, goats, and chickens are easy targets, so keeping your pets inside or supervised while out in the evenings can keep them safe.
Another strong deterrent: Make sure your backyard does not present as coyote-friendly territory. Coyotes are opportunistic, meaning they will eat whatever is left out for them. In this ecotone, snacks are in abundance and wild competitors are few. With food from trash, leftover scraps in restaurant dumpsters, bird feeders, and outdoor pet food, coyotes in the region are in food heaven. Removing outdoor pet food and keeping trash, especially food waste, properly contained can help prevent your backyard from becoming a nighttime coyote playground.
Aaron Facka, a furbearer biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission, says coyotes are managed not based on population, but on their impact on human society. As incident reports of agricultural damage and complaints of nuisance coyotes are made, management practices are put into play. Facka recommends calling the Southeast Region of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, at (717) 710-8911, which will dispatch a local warden to help. New Jersey residents can call the NJ Fish & Wildlife Division’s Wildlife Services at (908) 735-8793.
Once we learn more about the role that coyotes play in the ecosystem and better understand their behavior, we can feel more at ease living side by side with these incredible members of the natural community.