Although coyotes are generally elusive and avoid humans, sightings peak in May as they begin searching around the clock for food to support their newborn pups.
North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission officials report that coyotes prefer to build their dens away from human activity, but in North Carolina, where coyotes can be found in all 100 counties, that can still mean contact with people.
As coyotes wander in search of food such as wild fruit, small mammals and this year’s increased numbers of cicadas, the animals can enter residential areas, especially if food is plentiful, according to the commission. Coyotes will take advantage of pet food left outdoors, food scraps and other nutritious tidbits around homes.
Smaller pets such as cats and small-breed dogs should always be closely supervised when outdoors, as they can easily be mistaken for natural prey. Dog-proof fencing, which is at least 6 feet tall and prevents digging underneath, is the only guarantee of a no-coyote zone, but there are other ways to keep coyotes from hanging around.
“You must remove anything that could attract coyotes and actively make the area uncomfortable for them,” said Falyn Owens, extension biologist for the Wildlife Commission.
Owens offers the following tips to deter coyotes:
- Remove all outdoor pet food, fallen fruit, food waste and bird feeders.
- Keep cats and small dogs on a leash or harness whenever they’re outside.
- Haze coyotes away from homes and businesses.
Hazing is to wave your arms and shouting forcefully until a coyote leaves. Spraying them with a water hose or throwing small rocks in their direction can also alert coyotes they’re not welcome in the area. In more remote areas where a coyote pair might be denning, hazing likely won’t be effective.
“Coyotes will closely watch people who come near their den or pups, so if you are passing through a brushy or wooded area and notice a coyote watching you or even following you at a distance, there may be a den nearby,” said Owens. “In this case, leave calmly and inform others to avoid the area for a few weeks. Coyotes use dens like a crib for protecting their newborn pups, and as soon as the pups can survive outside of the den, the coyotes will abandon it.”
Coyotes rarely attack people, preferring to avoid humans entirely or keep their distance. If you are walking a small dog and a coyote seems to take interest, pick up the dog and act threatening toward the coyote. They are opportunistic hunters and prefer an easy meal over one that puts them at risk.
If you have questions about interactions with coyotes, visit www.ncwildlife.org/coyote or contact the NC Wildlife Helpline, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., at 866-318-2401 or email anytime at HWI@ncwildlife.org.