COLUMBIA, Mo. — The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) says it's important to be attentive to pets in areas where coyotes have been spotted or are known to live.
"This summer, the MDC regional office in Columbia has received a higher-than-average number of calls from citizens who have spotted coyotes in their neighborhoods," said MDC Wildlife Regional Supervisor John George. "While it is not unusual, we would like to remind folks to be aware and practice vigilance with regard to their pets."
Coyotes prefer open country rather than dense forests. However, unlike many other kinds of wildlife, coyotes adapt particularly well around human development and will coexist with people in many places. These areas can include municipal parks and other urban green space, golf courses, cemeteries, suburban wooded common areas, and even within subdivisions themselves.
"Conflicts can sometimes occur between humans and these wild canines, particularly when it comes to small pets," George says. "Coyotes have been known, on occasion, to attack and kill small dogs and cats."
However, George says having coyotes in your neighborhood or backyard is not necessarily cause for alarm. In fact, coyotes should be treated like any other animal that could potentially become a nuisance.
According to MDC Wildlife Damage Biologist Daryl Damron there are a few simple things people can do to help minimize potential conflicts with coyotes.
"Just remember food, fear and vigilance," Damron says.
First, people should make sure their yard or property has no food sources readily available to coyotes. If a coyote easily finds food someone has inadvertently provided, then they develop a dependency on these easy food sources. Damron suggests that dog and cat owners not leave pet food outside, to securely cover all trash cans, and to put out trash containers as close to pick up time as possible.
Homeowners should also consider their bird feeders. According to Damron, coyotes are usually not interested in the bird food, but rather what is attracted to that food.
"Bird feeders attract rodents, especially squirrels, which in turn attract coyotes" Damron says. "Try and pull those feeders in at night to discourage other animals from feasting on the seed. Or, don't feed birds in the summer months, as they have plenty of natural forage."
Fear is another tool people can use to deter a coyote. If a coyote should approach or be seen in the yard, Damron suggest doing everything possible to make it feel unwelcome.
"Scream, make loud, threatening noises, throw rocks or spray your garden hose," Damron says. "Anything you can do to make the coyotes experience unpleasant, the less likely it will return to your home."
Finally, pet owners should exercise vigilance when it comes to their pet.
"Pet owners should not leave their pets outside unattended, especially during the hours of dusk, nighttime and dawn. These are the periods coyotes are most active," Damron says.
Many people enjoy their encounters with coyotes and, by taking a few common sense precautions, avoid the negative impacts coyotes might otherwise cause.
"Because they often feed on smaller animals including squirrels, rabbits, moles, and groundhogs, coyotes can be a very beneficial neighbor," Damron says. "They help control these common nuisance critters."
To learn more about coyotes visit mdc.mo.gov and search "coyote." For a free brochure on dealing with nuisance coyotes, write to: Controlling Conflicts with Urban Coyotes in Missouri, PO Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.